A systematic review of studies describing the influence of informal social support on psychological wellbeing in people bereaved by sudden or violent causes of death
Aims Whilst all bereavements are traumatic, bereavement through violent or unexpected causes is associated with more severe negative health and wellbeing outcomes compared to other types of loss. Social support has been found to have a positive impact on wellbeing after traumatic events in general. However, this association appears to be less consistently demonstrated in studies that focus on bereavement, and the literature in this area has not yet been systematically reviewed. This study aimed
... d. This study aimed to review the international literature to examine systematically whether there is an association between informal social support from family and friends after bereavement through sudden and/or violent causes and post-bereavement wellbeing. Methods We conducted a systematic search for quantitative studies that tested for an association between social support and any outcome related to wellbeing after a sudden and/or violent loss. Included studies were assessed for risk of bias, and findings were reported using the approach of narrative synthesis. The review was pre-registered on Prospero (registration number CRD42018093704). Results We identified 16 papers that met inclusion criteria, all of which we assessed as having generally low or moderate risk of bias. 15 different wellbeing outcomes were measured across all studies. We found consistent evidence for an inverse association between social support and symptoms/presence of depression, predominantly consistent evidence for an inverse association between social support and symptoms/presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and conflicting evidence for an inverse association between social support and symptoms/presence of complicated grief. Conclusions Our systematic review identified evidence to suggest that social support after sudden or violent bereavement is associated with a reduced severity of depressive and PTSD symptoms. Further longitudinal research is needed to explore potential causality in 3 this relationship, widening the focus from common mental disorders to include other mental illnesses, wellbeing outcomes, and suicide-related outcomes after bereavement. There is also a need for consensus on the conceptualisation and measurement of social support. Our findings imply that interventions to improve access to and quality of social support may reduce the burden of mental illness after bereavement, and may therefore be worth investing in.