The Efficacy and Usability of an Unguided Web-Based Grief Intervention for Adults Who Lost a Loved One During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Randomized Controlled Trial

Alejandro Dominguez-Rodriguez, Sergio Sanz-Gomez, Leivy Patricia González Ramírez, Paulina Erika Herdoiza-Arroyo*, Lorena Edith Trevino Garcia, Anabel de la Rosa-Gómez, Joel Omar González-Cantero, Valeria Macias-Aguinaga, Melina Miaja

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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BACKGROUND: The death of a loved one was a challenge many people faced during the COVID-19 pandemic within the context of extraordinary circumstances and great uncertainty. Grief is an unavoidable part of life, and for most people, feelings of grief decrease naturally over time. However, for some people, grieving can become a particularly painful process with clinical symptoms that may require professional help to resolve. To provide psychological support to people who had lost a loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic, an unguided web-based psychological intervention was developed.

OBJECTIVE: The main objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of the web-based treatment, Grief COVID (Duelo COVID in Spanish; ITLAB), in reducing clinical symptoms of complicated grief, depression, posttraumatic stress, hopelessness, anxiety, and suicidal risk in adults. The secondary aim was to validate the usability of the self-applied intervention system.

METHODS: We used a randomized controlled trial with an intervention group (IG) and a waitlist control group (CG). The groups were assessed 3 times (before beginning the intervention, upon completing the intervention, and 3 months after the intervention). The intervention was delivered on the web in an asynchronous format through the Duelo COVID web page. Participants created an account that could be used on their computers, smartphones, or tablets. The evaluation process was automated as part of the intervention. RESULTS: A total of 114 participants were randomly assigned to the IG or CG and met criteria for inclusion in the study (n=45, 39.5% completed the intervention and n=69, 60.5% completed the waitlist period). Most participants (103/114, 90.4%) were women. The results indicated that the treatment significantly reduced baseline clinical symptoms in the IG for all variables (P<.001 to P=.006), with larger effect sizes for depression, hopelessness, grief, anxiety, and risk of suicide (all effect sizes ≥0.5). The follow-up evaluation showed that symptom reduction was maintained at 3 months after the intervention. The results from the CG showed that participants experienced significantly decreased levels of hopelessness after completing the time on the waitlist (P<.001), but their suicidal risk scores increased. Regarding the usability of the self-applied intervention system, the results indicated a high level of satisfaction with the Grief COVID.

CONCLUSIONS: The self-applied web-based intervention Grief COVID was effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, risk of suicide risk, posttraumatic stress disorder, and complicated grief disorder. Grief COVID was evaluated by the participants, who reported that the system was easy to use. These results affirm the importance of developing additional web-based psychological tools to help reduce clinical symptoms in people experiencing grief because of the loss of a loved one during a pandemic.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere43839
JournalJournal of medical internet research
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2023


  • Anxiety
  • Complicated grief
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Mobile phone
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Suicidal risk
  • Usability
  • Web-based intervention


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