Grieving Friends Often Find Support Online

WEDNESDAY, April 26, 2017 (HealthDay News) — When one person in a circle of friends dies, the others get closer, a new study finds.

Researchers analyzed online interactions among hundreds of thousands of people after the death of a friend.

They found a sharp uptick in interactions between people who lost a mutual friend immediately after the death.

“It was a surprise to see just how much people came together after a mutual friend’s death and how long this persisted,” said study leader William Hobbs. A postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University in Boston, he conducted the research as a University of California, San Diego doctoral student in political science.

The study focused on Facebook comments, posts and photo tags by close friends and acquaintances of the person who died, and it spanned four years before and after the death.

Hobbs and his colleagues found that these interactions increased right after a death and continued for years after. The effect was greatest among 18- to 24-year-olds.

The research was described as the first large-scale study of recovery and resilience after a death among a circle of friends.

Suicide was the exception. Friend networks that lost someone to suicide did not recover to the same extent. This needs more study, Hobbs said.

The study was published April 24 in the journal Human Behavior.

Robert Bond is an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University. In an accompanying article, he said the findings suggest people are changing their behavior in ways that are likely to help the grieving.

Hobbs and his team wrote, “We hope that these findings spur greater interest in how social networks adapt to trauma and crisis.

“Better understanding of social network adaptations could help us identify why social networks succeed or fail in recovery — and how social network failures might be prevented. The findings here, we believe, are an important first step in this direction,” they wrote.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health offers advice about coping with grief.

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Samuel Nelson

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