Sue Ryder survey reveals almost half of people experience poor mental health following the death of a loved one

Today we are launching our #JustSaySomething campaign in a bid to encourage everyone to open up about grief and bereavement after the loss of a loved one.

We want to help people grieving and those supporting them to honestly express themselves, talk more freely and provide effective emotional support through the grieving process, for better mental wellbeing through the most difficult times. 

A counsellor talking to a client during a session.

A new survey (1) commissioned by Sue Ryder has uncovered that close to half of bereaved people experience poor mental health – such as feelings of depression or anxiety – following the death of a loved one.

When questioned on which mental health condition(s) they felt was triggered by their grief, just under three quarters stated that they have experienced feelings of depression and almost two thirds said that they had felt anxious after experiencing a bereavement.

Responding to our survey, Ken Blanton, Specialist Counsellor at Sue Ryder, said: “This survey clearly illustrates how deeply felt a sense of loss can be and also how difficult it is to share those feelings. Very intense emotions are a normal part of the grieving process.”

“I try and be as strong as I can and put on a brave face, but it is okay to not be okay”

Lottie Tomlinson, a social media influencer who is supporting the Sue Ryder campaign after losing her mother and sister, relates: “I definitely developed some anxiety after losing mum, because it’s the scariest thing to lose a parent, especially when you’re so young. I try and be as strong as I can and put on a brave face, but it is okay to not be okay.”

Across 16-24 year olds, the youngest age group surveyed, over a quarter said that they have experienced an eating disorder due to being bereaved.

However, despite the high numbers of people in need, just 18% of women and 12% of men surveyed said that they had actively sought psychological support or treatment for how they were feeling.

The weight of grief

Grace Woodward, fashion stylist and Retail Ambassador for Sue Ryder, who is supporting the campaign after losing her mother, said: 

“My mum died when my son was eight weeks old.  Being a mother to a new baby and losing the person who should be your anchor was a big shock – so much so that I couldn’t grieve.  

“I didn’t have any counselling after my mum’s death and I think that this has had an effect on me.  Carrying the weight of that grief around with me on a daily basis – knowing the burden would be much lighter now, if I had done counselling a long time ago.”

"A damaging silence"

Looking into why bereavement causes feelings of poor mental health, we found that a third of the respondents felt they were unable to open up about their grief to those around them – despite ‘being able to talk freely’ being listed by those surveyed as the number one action that would be most likely to help them following the death of a loved one.

When we asked members of the public, just over half admitted that they would be scared of saying the wrong thing and just under half of people said that they would know what kind of help or support to offer someone who was bereaved. (2)

Lottie Tomlinson said: “I wanted to do this campaign because I want to try to educate people on how they can help someone who is grieving. There are so many people who don’t know what to say or how to act. One of the hardest parts for me was people not bringing them up. When you’ve lost someone, you can feel like they are fading away because people aren’t talking about them.”

Heidi Travis, Chief Executive at Sue Ryder, said: “We seem to have found ourselves in a perfect storm. People who have experienced a bereavement want to open up yet don’t feel like they can; and those wanting to support those coping with grief are too afraid to say the wrong thing. This leaves us with a damaging silence. Sue Ryder hopes that our #JustSaySomething campaign can provide people with the confidence to begin these conversations.”

Ways we can better support ourselves and each other

Almost a third of people who had experienced a bereavement said that their friends and family stopped asking how they were feeling after just three weeks of being bereaved; yet close to two thirds stated that society’s assumption that there was an end to the grieving period was simply untrue.

Relating to this assumption that grief has a definite timeline or end point, Grace Woodward said of her own bereavement: “People think that when you’ve lost somebody, that you give them an acceptable grieving time and then everything will be fine and it just doesn’t work like that. I sometimes feel embarrassed to say that I’m still not over it.”

“Each of us at some point will most likely experience bereavement or want to support somebody else who is. Sue Ryder’s research shows that for many people, bereavement can be a trigger for feelings of depression and anxiety but it also points at some simple ways in which we can better support ourselves and each other,” said Heidi Travis.  

We are calling for people who have experienced a bereavement to:

  • Open up and #JustSaySomething – whether it be a family member, partner, friend or even colleague, let those close to you know if you are feeling low by simply saying ‘I’m struggling today’ or ‘This week has been a tough one’.
  • Notice what lifts your mood and share that with your support network – this could be a certain activity or even sharing memories of the person who has died.
  • Remember that there is no time frame attached to grieving and everyone’s experience of grief is unique.
  • Ask for help and speak to your GP if you are experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety – these could manifest in you struggling to focus, having a lack of energy, isolating yourself, losing interest in things you used to love and finding unhealthy ways to cope, such as heavy drinking. 
  • Visit sueryder.org/copingwithgrief for a range of tips and resources to help support you and visit the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Forum to access peer to peer support from those going through similar experiences to yours.

If you are supporting somebody through bereavement, you can:

  • #JustSaySomething and be ready to listen – ‘Being able to talk freely’ was cited by those surveyed as the number one action that would be most likely to help them. A simple ‘How are you feeling?’ can be enough to start the conversation.
  • Take your lead from them – check in with them often and let them lead you as to how you can help.
  • Watch out for symptoms of depression or anxiety – these could include struggling to focus, a lack of energy, isolating themselves, losing interest in things they used to love, and finding unhealthy ways to cope, such as heavy drinking. If you feel concerned, encourage them to go and speak to their GP.
  • Remember there is no time frame attached to grieving and checking in with them a year or two after a death can be just as important as in the first few weeks.
  • Visit sueryder.org/copingwithgrief to find further advice and resources to help you to provide the best support.

Visit our Coping with grief and bereavement page for bereavement resources providing practical and emotional advice for both parties to help encourage conversations about grief.

References

  1. Survey of 1,061 UK respondents who are bereaved (aged 16+), which was conducted 20.11.2019 - 22.11.2019
  2. Interview of 2,189 British adults between 14th and 19th December 2018