Earlier this week, we published A better route through grief, our latest research report about the availability and impact of bereavement support across the UK. It looks at the experiences of over 8,500 people and outlines our key recommendations for improving bereavement support for everyone.
To mark the launch of the report, we sat down with Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, and Lottie Tomlinson, Sue Ryder Ambassador and social media influencer, to talk about their own experiences of grief and what this research means to them.
Together, they are united in wanting to make sure everyone who is grieving is able to access the type of support they need, at time when they need it, and we’re so grateful to have their support.
Why we carried out this research
In 2019, we published our A better grief report and recommended that the Government commission new research into bereavement support. Three years on from that report and the Government is yet to carry out such research, so we decided to move forward with it ourselves.
We surveyed over 8,500 people* about their own experiences of grief, with the aim of understanding:
- the effects of being able to access different types of bereavement support
- what types of support are available in different parts of the country.
To build on our findings from the research, we also surveyed 250 GPs across the UK about their experiences of providing bereavement support to patients. Through the research and GP survey, we found three key findings.
Key research findings
The majority of respondents couldn’t access the type of support they wanted
70% of survey respondents said that they weren’t able to access the support they would have liked during their grief.
The research goes on to show that the most common types of support people wanted but couldn’t access were counselling (28%), financial support (28%) and written information (25%). This demonstrates a huge need for there to be a variety of bereavement support on offer.
The availability and take-up of formal support differed across the UK
The research found that people using formal support to help them through their grief, such as counselling or prescription drugs, varied by location. Access to formal support was highest in London (42%), the West Midlands (40%) and Northern Ireland (39%), and lowest in Wales (30%), Scotland (29%) and South East England (25%).
Interestingly, the research also showed that levels of access aren’t linked to the number of services in an area. For example, Northern Ireland had high access rates despite the lower number of services available, whereas South East England had lower access rates, even though more services are available there.
A lack of awareness around what formal support is on offer may be one potential reason why there are areas like South East England, where access is low despite availability being high. This demonstrates the need for better signposting to formal support across the country. The importance of greater awareness and access to formal support is underlined by the research finding that 85% of the people who received such support said it led to an improvement in how they felt.
Regions with a lower number of services available generally had higher than average rates of people accessing prescription drugs
The research showed that Wales has a limited variety and number of services officially advertised, and a higher than average percentage of people receiving prescription drugs. On the other hand, London had a lower than average rate of people accessing prescription drugs, which could be because of the wider availability and variety of services in the region.
The research also found that 1 in 5 of people who wanted counselling but couldn’t access it instead accessed prescription drugs, such as antidepressants. This mirrors the experiences of the GPs we surveyed, as we found that 70% have prescribed drugs for someone who has been bereaved whilst feeling like there should have been a better option.
Not only do these findings prove that more needs to be done to improve awareness of existing bereavement support amongst healthcare professionals, but it also highlights the need for a better range of services that meet the needs of the population across the UK. This is further backed up by the research, which found that the most common barriers to support were a lack of culturally relevant services (18%) and a lack of services available in different languages (19%).
After reflecting on all the findings of the research, we have put forward three main recommendations to help make better bereavement support a reality for everyone.
For Government and healthcare decision makers
We’re calling on the Government to commit to developing a bereavement specific pathway. This would help healthcare professionals find the right support for anyone who has experienced a bereavement, and should be supported by a public health campaign to promote awareness of the different services available.
We also believe that Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), the partnerships of organisations who plan and deliver health and care services in the UK, should review what services are already available in their area. This will help healthcare professionals gain a better understanding of where they can signpost patients towards, and it will also highlight what types of services are missing or under-provided.
For charities and service providers
We’re calling on communities, charities and service providers to continue carrying out research to improve bereavement support. We believe that there needs to be a better understanding of diverse cultural beliefs around death and grief, as well as more insight into the barriers that exist for different groups. These findings could go on to help inform designs and updates for new services in the future.
We’re calling on society to acknowledge the role we can all play in supporting others through their grief journey. This could be through gaining a better understanding of the support services available, or simply through encouraging others to have open and honest conversations about grief.
We at Sue Ryder are committed to taking the findings of our research forward. We will:
- work with decision makers on the development of a bereavement specific pathway.
- work with new and existing partners to further develop the research into bereavement support
- build on our Grief Kind campaign to help the nation better support each other through grief
- further develop the services we offer to thousands of people, across the UK, every year.
Heidi Travis, our Chief Executive, said:
“An estimated three million people experienced a bereavement during the first two years of the pandemic, leaving thousands of families devastated, struggling to cope with how they had to say goodbye and with increased isolation making it difficult to seek the right support for their grief.
“Healthcare professionals are under immense pressure and our research has shown they often have limited options but to offer prescription drugs to grieving patients as a way to bridge the gap until other support services are available. If the government committed to supporting the development of a bereavement pathway, GPs and wider healthcare professionals would be better equipped to refer patients to the appropriate support for them, ensuring people can get the right help at the right time.
“Sue Ryder is committed and ready to work with government, healthcare decision-makers, relevant organisations and people with lived experience to ensure no one has to go through grief alone.”
* Of the 8,555 responses to the survey, 4,403 people experienced a close bereavement. Unless otherwise stated, report findings are based on responses from those who experienced a close bereavement.
Read the full report: A better route through grief