February 8, 2024

Grief and bereavement and how we can help

What is grief?

Grief is a common emotional response to loss, which often occurs following the death of a loved one, family member or friend. It is a common experience that most people will go through at some point during their lives. It is important to remember that whilst there are some common patterns to grief, each person’s experience is individual and can change over time. There is no right or wrong way to feel about the death of someone you know and it is possible to feel multiple and conflicting emotions at the same time.

The grieving process is affected by several factors, including how attached we felt to the person, our relationship to them, and the circumstances of their death. Following a bereavement it is common to see improvements, only to feel worse again shortly after. There are no timelines within which a person is expected to feel better, however if grief persists and disrupts daily life for a long period this may be a sign of something called ‘complex grief’.

Actions that can help

  1. Allow emotions: Intense emotions are a normal response to a bereavement and it is important not to judge yourself or to try to get rid of feelings such as sadness and anger. Letting emotions take their natural course may help in the long run.
  2. Keep a routine: Try to maintain a routine and balance in your life, for example keeping up with activities you enjoy (even if it is hard to enjoy them during grief), taking regular exercise, eating regularly and maintaining a good sleep pattern.
  3. Stay in touch: It is common to feel isolated and alone during grief or even to think that people will not want to be around you. It is important to remember that most people have experienced some kind of bereavement themselves and will want to support you if you let them.
  4. Do what it takes: Grief can be a consuming experience and there will be days when things are easier and days when things are harder. These might not always be predictable although special occasions or anniversaries can be particularly difficult. Allow yourself to do whatever is needed to do to get through the day, such as taking the day off work, seeing friends, asking someone to help you (for example with childcare) or doing something to remember the person who has died.
  5. Seek support - Everyone is different and will adjust to loss in their own way. It may be helpful to reach out to someone to talk about how you are feeling and coping. This could be a friend, family member or a healthcare professional. See a list of local services here.

Symptoms

As grief is not an illness, there are no ‘symptoms’ as such, and individual responses to a bereavement can vary enormously from person to person, but there can be common experiences. These include:

  • Feelings such as sadness, numbness, anger and anxiety
  • Tearfulness
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Withdrawing from people and activities
  • Lacking energy and motivation
  • Changes in your thinking such as poor concentration and forgetfulness

For more information about mental health difficulties click here.

Treatment

There are many effective treatments for grief, these could include lifestyle changes and talking therapies. The most important thing to remember is that what works for you may not be the same as what works for someone else and you may need a combination of different treatments.

Talking therapies such as compassion focussed therapy (CFT) and acceptance and committment therapy (ACT) have proven to be useful in treating grief. These therapies can help you accept the reality of the loss, work through the pain and grief, adjust to life without the deceased and maintain a connection with the deceased whilst moving forward with life.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be used to treat grief. CBT provides you with a framework to understand your experience, identify barriers that you may be facing, and to develop strategies to increase your sense of control.

There is little solid evidence relating to the use of medication in treating grief, but in cases of complex grief, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is struggling to adjust following a bereavement it may help to speak to someone. Perhaps start by opening up to a friend or family member; having this additional support may be all that is needed. For a majority of people, the intense feelings of grief will fade within the first 6 months.

If symptoms don’t start to taper off by this point, it could be a sign of complicated grief. If you think that more support is required, speaking to a GP or therapist may help manage distress following a bereavement.

Grief and Bereavement - Five facts

  1. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief following a bereavement, everyone will experience it differently.
  2. Each time someone dies, they leave behind an average of 4-5 people who will go on to experience grief.
  3. It is common to feel numb rather than sad and be unable to cry at times during grief.
  4. For a majority of people, the intense feelings of grief will fade and be replaced by a less overwhelming grief experience.
  5. In the longer term, the most common emotional response to death is yearning, rather than intense feelings such as depression or anger.

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