By Andy Bell
Bereavement is a natural and normal part of human life. It is something we all experience at times in our lives. It can be a life-changing event with far-reaching and sometimes long-lasting emotional and psychological effects.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought bereavement into many people’s lives for the first time, or in some of the most challenging and painful of ways possible.
Last week, a report by the UK Commission on Bereavement sheds light on what has been learnt so far from the experiences of the last three years about the impact of grief on people’s lives and the changes that need to take place to ensure bereaved people get the right support when and where they need it.
The report, Bereavement is everyone’s business, sets out evidence from far and wide about how people are affected by grief and what they would find helpful. The report was produced by a group of charities. Alongside the Commission, we supported discussions with mental health and bereavement organisations to understand the complex interplay between grief and mental health, and to explore what could be done to ensure people receive emotional and psychological support when and if they need it.
Experiencing grief is not a mental health problem. But for some people, it may be a cause or trigger of distress, and for people going through complex or traumatic grief it can be very serious. It’s therefore vital that emotional support is responsive to the different types and levels of need people may have, and that it is offered proactively after as well as during the immediate aftermath of a loss.
The Commission’s survey found that access to emotional support was hampered for many bereaved people by not knowing if support was available or how to access it. Others found the support they wanted wasn’t available, or didn’t feel that what was on offer would be helpful. More hopefully, people who got emotional support found it helpful to process their grief and learn coping strategies to bring into their lives.
Thousands more people than usual have been bereaved by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many will have been unable to grieve in the normal ways during that time. For some, the mental health after-effects of the traumatic and painful experiences may be yet to be felt. So it is essential that effective emotional support is there when people need it, and that offer needs to be communicated clearly and routinely. As well as health and care services, workplaces, schools and colleges can provide routes to getting help when people need it. And it is vital that mental health and bereavement services in local areas form stronger working relationships so that no one is left without adequate support from either when they need it.
The report concludes that we need to change as a society to support people through bereavement, from immediate practical and financial help to longer term emotional and psychological support. Taboos and inhibitions about death and loss still hold us back from doing this well. Getting over those, and investing in good quality support, will give all of us the reassurance that help will be there when we need it.