Supporting bereaved parents during the pandemic
6 May 2020
By Alyx Elliott
Right now I’m feeling incredibly grateful to work for an organisation that can be nimble. I know from experience just how valuable it is to be able to act quickly and decisively within a charity setting – and never has that been more important for those of us who deliver frontline mental health services.
Petals’ clients – bereaved parents – often have unique mental health needs that are particularly time-sensitive. They aren’t only grieving the death of a child or the loss of a pregnancy; many of them have also suffered sudden, deep trauma, which can have a range of long-term consequences if left unprocessed. Many of them are also more susceptible to health anxiety than the average person.
The combined threat of bereaved parents’ support system being removed and of Covid-19 itself only made a proactive, positive response all the more urgent. Closing down was not an option.
So what did we do? We were able to move 100% of our specialist counselling service online within a week. We took the decision to do this very quickly, just before the stricter lockdown measures were put in place. We chose an online video platform, trained our counsellors, liaised with our partners in the NHS, and rolled it out immediately. So far, over 70% of our existing clients have transferred to this new way of working. The remainder are either choosing to wait, or are undecided.
Bereaved parents often have unique mental health needs that are particularly time-sensitive. They aren’t only grieving the death of a child or the loss of a pregnancy; many of them have also suffered sudden, deep trauma, which can have a range of long-term consequences if left unprocessed.
Then, there are those parents who are newly bereaved – who are experiencing the loss of a baby during this outbreak. We have been hearing reports that they are not able to receive the support they usually would in hospital, because of staff being diverted elsewhere. This means that many parents are currently unable to spend additional time with their baby after they have died; that memory making services have had to be postponed; and that tight restrictions around funerals are making it harder for parents to have support from those close to them - all of which will make an already intolerable situation even harder.
Additionally there are the maternity healthcare professionals who are under immense strain. We always support those in hospitals where we have partnerships, and are continuing to do so when they can find the time to step away.
while the world is enveloped in its darkest crisis in a generation, we know that there are also those individuals who are facing the most devastating personal experience any of us can imagine: the death of a much loved and wanted child.
Like many charities, funding is our most practical concern, and is something we are working hard to secure. But for us at Petals, the thing that really keeps us up at night is what more we could be doing for bereaved parents during these strange and unsettling times. So, we now have several projects in the pipeline which we hope will enable us to quickly open up access to our specialist counselling support across the whole UK – not just in those areas where we have NHS partnerships.
We are a small team but we are innovative, passionate and determined. Bereaved parents and the babies they have lost are our daily inspiration. So while the world is enveloped in its darkest crisis in a generation, we know that there are also those individuals who are facing the most devastating personal experience any of us can imagine: the death of a much loved and wanted child. And we promise to be there for them through it all.
Alyx Elliott is Director of Strategy at Petals – the Baby Loss Counselling Charity. She is also a bereaved parent.
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