The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a bereavement crisis unparalleled in a generation, with devastating consequences for the mental health of those who lost a loved one to the virus. Using national survey data (n = 2,000) containing detailed information about people’s experiences of pandemic-related stressors, coping resources, and mental health, in this study we examine whether and how three psychosocial coping resources—mastery, self-esteem, and social support—moderate the association between COVID-19 bereavement and psychological distress. We find that coping resources have both expected and unanticipated effects on the relationship between bereavement and mental health. Consistent with the stress process model, higher levels of mastery uniformly reduce the damaging effects of bereavement on depressive symptoms and anger, whereas self-esteem mitigates the positive association between losing a close tie to the virus and reports of anger. Contrary to the stress-buffering hypothesis, however, higher levels of perceived support exacerbate the positive associations between bereavement and each indicator of psychological distress. Our findings suggest that the putatively advantageous aspects of social support may be compromised, or even reversed, in the context of constrained social engagement. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings for sociological research on the stress process.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We acknowledge funding from Hamilton College through an early career faculty grant. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Hamilton College: Protocol #S20
© American Sociological Association 2022.
- stress process
- stress-buffering hypothesis