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Grief on the web

April 6, 2011

With the ubiquity of internet access and social media outlets, it’s not a surprise that users would share details of their lives including the difficulties experienced when going through a grieving process. I’ve recently seen researches regarding internet-based grief counseling tools as well as social networking sites that are geared toward a particular type of grief. Recently, a student of mine mentioned a study that provided analysis of postings dedicated to Michael Jackson via Twitter, and Facebook (Sanderson & Cheong, 2010). Other sites such as allow users to remain updated on (sometimes) terminally ill friends and family, as well as to extend condolences and share memories if a loved one has passed. There is even a site for pet owners who have lost their pets (Chohan, 2001) providing for a place where memories and photos of deceased pets could be shared. But do these sites assist users in managing the effects of their losses?

Dominick, et al (2009) conducted a study to determine whether or not internet self-help tools assisted bereaved individuals in normalizing and adjusting their grief. The researchers reported significant gains in attitude, self-efficacy and anxiety, utilizing the eta-squared ANOVA to determine effect size instead of perhaps an omega-squared ANOVA measure.  The eta-squared measure is thought to be biased in an upward direction (King & Minium, 2003)  whereas the omega-squared ANOVA (a newer measure) “estimates the proportion of the variance in the dependent variable (in the population) that is due to the k levels of treatment” (King & Minium, 2001, p. 405). Aside from methodology questions, Dominick, et al’s (2009) findings suggest there is promise in self-help grieving tools delivered via the internet.

In the case of suicide bereavement, Krysinska and Andriessen (2010) found a number of internet-based resources available for support of those left behind by a loved one’s suicide. The researchers offered no evidence of who utilized these resources and stated there was no assessment of the quality of the resources available, but that such resources were widely available nonetheless.

An interesting and well-designed study in the wake of the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University shootings was conducted by Vicary and Fraley (2010). Two hundred students from both universities were assessed in terms of their post-crisis internet usage at the 2-week mark after the shootings and then again at the 6-week mark. Measures concerning post-traumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms were applied. For the duration of the study, students were given a number of online activities designed to assist them in coping with the shootings. It is interesting to note that at the 2-week mark, 75% of the students showed significant signs of psychological distress (Vicary & Fraley, 2010). While the study did not provide evidence that the internet measurably enhanced the individuals’ well-being, the students reported the activities to have had a positive impact on their ability to cope with the tragedies (Vicary & Fraley, 2010).

As knowledge is power, one could posit the benefits of internet grief support from an organization perspective as well as an individual perspective. My experience in Human Resource Management provides me with many recollections of employees seeking direction; distraught and bereaved over a serious illness or death of a loved one or friend. As noted above, the research seems to suggest that such major life events are sometimes disruptive to employee productivity (which is completely understandable). It would seemingly follow that having a list compiled of internet-based resources to refer employees to could go a long way in extending sympathy and support for those who are going through a difficult time. Many caveats apply here as great care would have to be taken so that in no way would such information supplant referral to a well-trained professional such as a therapist or counselor. With proper usage, however, such a list could give the employee an idea of where they might find comfort from those who have been (or are currently) in similar circumstances, especially if they have to wait several days for an appointment with a psychologist or counselor. Further, providing such information to employees could perhaps build and enhance relationships between employees and employers.


Chohan, N.  (2001). Website of the week: Pet bereavement. British Medical Journal, 323(7322), 1194.

Dominick, S., Irvine, A., Beauchamp, N., Seeley, J., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Doka, K., & Bonanno, G. (2009). An internet tool to normalize grief. Omega, 60(1), 71.

King, B., & Minium, E. (2003). Statistical reasoning: In psychology and education (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Krysinska, K., & Andriessen, K. (2010). On-line support and resources for people bereaved through suicide: What is available? Suicide & Life – Threatening Behavior, 40(6), 640-650.

Sanderson, J., & Cheong, P. (2010). Tweeting prayers and communicating grief over Michael Jackson online. Bulleting of Science, Technology & Society, 30(5), 328-340.

Vicary, A., & Fraley, R. (2010). Student reactions to the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University: Does sharing grief and support over the internet affect recovery? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(11), 1555.

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