This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Leon Rozewicz (MBBS, FRCPsych, MRCGP, MRCPsych) in June 2020.
There are few events in life more distressing than the death of a friend or family member. Bereavement or grief relates to the period of time after we’ve lost people we love, and describes how we adjust to the significant amount of change that usually follows.
While we may grieve after other types of loss such as the end of a relationship, retirement, losing a pet or loss of health, the intense range of emotions felt after losing a person we love often affects us most profoundly.
Bereavement counselling is advised if you are struggling to come to terms with your loss, especially if you believe the mental and emotional effects of a person’s death is affecting your ability to function during the day.
Dr Radu Iosub, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Bristol, offers practical advice and support for managing feelings of grief during 'lockdown'. He explains the links between this and PTSD and talks about the different help & support available for those who may have suffered loss during this very difficult time.
What is bereavement?
Bereavement is used to describe the range of feelings associated with grief after a loved one has passed away. An overwhelming sense of loss accompanied by emotions including sadness, anger, guilt, frustration and anxiety often follow immediately after the death, with this period described as being ‘in mourning’ and is categorised as acute bereavement or grieving.
When you are experiencing bereavement, allowing yourself to come to terms with your own emotions within your own timescale is imperative when learning to cope with such a life changing situation. Initially, it may seem as though finding peace or acceptance after a person you love has died represents an immense challenge, although the more intense feelings of loss tend to subside after you have worked through your emotions over a period of time.
It is important to remember that grief is a perfectly normal and healthy response to loss. As many of us are living longer, it can be some time before we experience profound sadness of losing a loved one in our lives, and every individual will cope with the associated emotions in different ways.
Causes of bereavement
While the death of someone you cared for may seem like the obvious cause of bereavement, the type and nature of the death plays an important part in the grieving process and how the event ultimate impacts on your life.
Some of the primary causes of bereavement and intense grief include:
Death of a parent - the loss of our parents is an unfortunate event many of us have to prepare for during our lives. This will be a particularly significant death if you maintained a close attachment with your mother or father, and can leave you feeling isolated, with close family support important for helping you cope with the situation, particularly from siblings going through the same emotional journey.
Death of a child - outliving your child or experiencing death of a child through cot death, illness or accident can be one of the most painful periods of bereavement. Because the death of a child or adolescent is unexpected in the natural flow of life, you may experience feelings of reduced hope and sadness of your child not getting the chance to fulfil their potential and seeing them grow up, which understandably changes your life forever.
Death of a spouse or partner - as we spend so much of our adult lives with our spouse or partner, their loss can make you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself and your ultimate companion. The support of friends and family is imperative in this circumstance, as they can help protect you from experiencing complex grief reactions and realise there is still hope for the future.
Death of a sibling - whether you are a child, adolescent or adult, losing your sibling can be very difficult at any life stage. As you have grown up with your brother or sister, you may have a very close bond with them, although feelings of jealously or comparison during their lifetime can make you feel regret. If a child has lost their sibling, it is important to involve them in the grieving process such as making funeral arrangement and preparing them for the range of emotions to come.
Death through suicide - losing someone to suicide is one of the more difficult and complex forms of bereavement you can go through. The more common emotions and symptoms felt during the grieving process can be further complicated by feelings of anger and regret directed either at your loved one for leaving the world, or towards yourself for either not fully understanding their state of mind, or feeling as though you could have done more to help them while they were alive.
The 5 Stages of Grief
There are five most widely recognised stages of grief, although there have been some studies that have asserted there may actually be as many as seven.
It is important to understand that these are not sequential. They can occur in any order and people can experience several stages at the same time.
Here are the most well-known stages of grief:
Denial, disbelief, and numbness
Particularly if the death of your loved one has been sudden, initial feelings experienced may include heightened levels of shock and disbelief. This can make you feel an out-of-body sense of numbness and even denial that the death has actually taken place, finding it difficult to believe that you won’t see someone important to you again.
In the initial days and weeks, it can also feel as though you are ‘drifting’ through an alternate reality that isn’t your own, reflecting your brain’s attempt to process such extreme emotions within a short timeframe.
Anger or blame
Even if you aren’t prone to feelings of anger or aggression, these emotions are common in people who are grieving. The death of someone you love can make life feel extremely unfair, particularly if the person you are grieving was young or they had a lot of future plans in place.
Blaming yourself for something you did or didn’t say to the person before they died, or feeling angry towards them for their role in their death if it happened by suicide for example are also common emotions.
Bargaining (for instance, "If they are cured of this cancer, I will never smoke again")
If you are religious or believe in any higher power having control over the situation you are experiencing, it is possible to go through a bargaining stage of grief, whereby you make promises or personal sacrifices in the hope that the death will not occur, or that things can go back to the way they were after your loved one has passed away.
Depressed mood and sadness
Symptoms of depression are likely when you are grieving someone who was close to you. Feelings of hopelessness and feeling as though your life no longer has any meaning can lead to suicidal thoughts when severe, so it is important you seek help from therapists at Priory specialising in the treatment of depression as a part of your bereavement programme should you feel this way.
Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is the final stage in the grieving process for many, although it can arrive earlier during bereavement or after skipping other stages of grief depending on the nature of death and whether it was expected.
While this stage isn’t promised to anyone during bereavement, it is characterised by a period of distinguishable calm, whereby you may feel ready to rebuild your life and return to work and other tasks you carried out before the person’s death.
Specialist bereavement counsellors at Priory
Priory understands that the loss of someone you love is one of the most difficult experiences you can go through, which is why our team of highly experienced bereavement counsellors and therapists work with you to understand the nature of your loss. We can then create a personalised treatment programme to help you cope with your grief and prepare for the future, allowing you to find acceptance and enabling you to continue with your life towards eventually reaching acceptance.
It is important to remember that there is no definitive length of time for mourning, or a particular way you are ‘supposed’ to feel during the grieving process. The emotional difficulties felt after the death of someone you cared about are completely normal, particularly if they played an important role in your daily life.
Treatment for Grief at Priory
Bereavement counselling and therapy at Priory can help you reach this state of mind and arrive at a healthy conclusion, with evidence-based talking therapies helping you learn effective techniques to cope with feelings of stress, depression or anxiety that may be associated with the loss. Factors such as the nature of the person’s death and the age you were at the time of your loss can dictate the type and length of bereavement treatment and support you receive.
Our wide range of outpatient options exists alongside more structured approaches, including an inpatient stay at one of our nationwide network of Priory hospitals with access to psychological group therapy programmes and regular sessions with a specialist consultant often used when treating associated symptoms and illnesses of bereavement including depression.
The unique and complex nature of your bereavement process and its intensely personal nature are recognised at Priory, with therapists providing tailored treatment programmes suitable to your level of comfortability and emotional requirements. Some of the therapy methods we offer include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
This action-focused and problem solving approach is an effective talking therapy which can help you manage your thoughts or behaviours relating to your loss more effectively, which can involve finding different ways to maintain a link to the deceased person through accessing pleasurable memories, reflecting on their influence in your life, or feeling comfortable enough to talk about the person with others.
As there can be associated symptoms of depression or anxiety during bereavement, mindfulness helps reduce the prevalence of negative thoughts by allowing you to ‘tune in’ to your body to identify and take steps to prevent any serious mental disorders from developing as a result. Mindfulness and meditation can help you live in the present and begin the path towards acceptance of what has happened, which can be vital when going through bereavement, as it can be difficult not to dwell too much on the past or the future.
While bereavement is something most of us have to face at some point in our lives, the unique set of emotions felt when grieving can feel isolating, even when trying to explain the situation to friends or family. Group therapy enables you to gain valuable insights, share anecdotes and coping methods surrounding loss with other people going through similar feelings. When observing different stages of bereavement others are experiencing in this setting, it has the capacity to help you realise you won’t always feel the same level of negative emotions, particularly during the early stages of grief.
If you are unable to attend one of our locations nationwide, we also offer online therapy at a time and place that suits you. Priory Connect is our market-leading online therapy service, providing easy access to highly qualified & licensed mental health specialists for just £124 per session.