Organisations, academics and faith leaders launch Sudden Bereavement Charter as new analysis shows unexpected deaths triple to almost a quarter of all fatalities

Sudden comments on Independent Age research on commissioning bereavement support

Essex, Kent, Lancashire, Birmingham and Surrey most affected areas for COVID-19 bereavement

COVID-19 leaving over 250,000 people facing sudden bereavement – accounting for half of all sudden deaths this year

Half a million people in the UK set to face a sudden bereavement in 2020

Sudden’s Chief Executive Mary Williams announces a new report, Help when the worst happens, published in response to COVID-19. It outlines how the challenging circumstances of this pandemic are affecting bereavement, and the measures that need to be taken to ensure needs are met. 

In 2020, due to COVID-19, people are being bereaved in sudden and shocking ways, under remarkably difficult social circumstances, and at far greater numbers than ever before. In response, we have published an urgent Sudden report, Help when the worst happens, about meeting the needs of people bereaved in these difficult times.

The report explains that sudden deaths in the UK are set to more than double this year to 100,000, with COVID-19 accounting for almost half that number. This will likely leave half a million people in the UK facing the very complex challenges of a sudden bereavement of a close family member, challenges which are exacerbated by ongoing social-distancing restrictions that can cause isolation.

This report aims to shine a light on those challenging circumstances, outline the appropriate systems of support, and reveal the poor outcomes that bereaved people could suffer without proper care. Charities and health experts are rightly calling for an urgent focus on funding and development of the provision of bereavement support this year. Sudden deaths, from COVID-19 or any other circumstances, can affect anyone at any time so support must be wide-spread.

In previous times of mass bereavements with acute needs, we have not known how to help; we do now. The combined expert opinions that have underpinned Sudden’s advice to practitioners over the years, as a provider of professional development regarding early care of bereaved people with acute needs, teach us that sudden and shocking bereavements require an immediate and clinically-informed crisis response from day one onwards. Help is particularly key through the early weeks (the shock period, before grief support services and mental health services, are appropriate to signpost) as well as in later months. The report outlines how support should be assigned according to need, for example, with the impact bereavement can have on mental health. This immediate psychosocial response for people with acute needs must be accessible, have capacity, and be tailored to address an individual’s unique emotional and practical needs.

Without the proper support, we know people bereaved in challenging circumstances can suffer a range of poor outcomes that negatively affect them, their families, the wider community and even our economy. With support, provided in evidence-based, timely and straightforward ways, people are more likely to move forwards into a positive future.

Help when the worst happens calls for bereavement and support charities, health and social care agencies, community leaders, and government to work with urgency, together, to secure these futures for the sake of us all and in the name of humanity. Click here to read the full report.

To help Sudden answer the call of anyone suffering a sudden bereavement, please donate to our charity.

About the author

Mary Williams OBE is chief executive of Sudden. Sudden is a global initiative to help people bereaved by any sudden cause and also to help the professional standards of their carers. Mary is also chief executive of Brake. Brake is a road safety charity providing the National Road Victim Service in the UK for families bereaved by death on the road, including an acclaimed and government-backed national helpline and information service. Brake also operates globally and has a domestic branch in New Zealand too.

Bereavement challenges in a time of pandemic

After a death from COVID-19, and after a death from any cause in a time of pandemic, there are bereavement challenges that are new and hard, for both bereaved people and their carers. In this blog, Sudden chief executive Mary Williams OBE discusses the impact of death on families and bereavement services at this time of COVID-19 and applauds the efforts of the bereavement NGO community to offer support.

While governments still battle the spread of COVID-19, a new challenge is emerging: the challenge to help bereaved people in a time of pandemic.

A death from COVID-19 is a shocking, sudden death after a short and increasingly severe illness. To prevent infection, it is usually not possible for families to say goodbye in a normal way.

A death from any cause in a time of pandemic brings additional challenges for everyone who is bereaved. For example, it is ill-advised, or forbidden, for people to meet and hold a normal memorialising event such as a funeral. People whose normal cultural or religious practices involve washing or dressing a dead person’s body are now prevented from doing these things.

Governments are rightly concerned about the perils of isolating people through ‘lockdowns’ that aim to contain the virus, particularly the potential harm to people who are suffering major life challenges, such as poverty, addiction, and problems relating to mental health and physical health. There is also the enormous challenge of being both isolated and bereaved.

As we applaud our medical practitioners for saving so many lives, for those families who are bereaved by COVID-19 (and also by any other causes, particularly sudden causes) their challenges are just beginning.

For some people bereaved at this time, there are acute practical challenges that require immediate intervention from health and social services. For example, imagine the needs of an elderly person with dementia, perhaps also suffering from COVID-19, who was previously cared for by their partner who has died.

For all people who are suddenly bereaved at this time, there will be a range of challenges, compounded by the need for social distancing. Contact from family, friends, carers, and basic human needs, such as to have a hug, are prevented. Or these things are restricted to people with whom the bereaved are self-isolated.

Bereavement charities and mental health services around the world are working to ensure we help, as best we can, with the resources we have. A wealth of information is being published online and bereavement helplines are open.

Across the world, we are all having to help each other in new, and often virtual, ways. We are blessed with the power of phone lines and the internet to enable many people to access information, talk and share their feelings and thoughts online, at a time when, cruelly, it is not possible to say goodbye to someone who is dying, it is not possible to help prepare their body for a funeral event, it is not possible to safely hold a mass gathering of family and friends to mourn and celebrate.

We know, from the findings of academia and practitioners, that early care of suddenly bereaved people is very important. It can prevent the onset of serious conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can blight lives for years.

People who have been bereaved suddenly need to be looked after in the early weeks. They need to feel safe. They need to be informed about symptoms of sudden bereavement so they are prepared. They need to feel supported, through simple tips regarding self-care at this time.

The good news is that meeting suddenly bereaved people’s practical needs and giving them information and support to enable self-care can really help make a difference to their mental health outcomes and enable a normal grieving process.

I applaud all bereavement services for rallying together, to help people bereaved by any cause, including COVID-19, in these very challenging times, and urge a focus on a straightforward approach that helps people through the early weeks in practical, simple ways that enable people to feel safe and supported.

About the author

Mary Williams OBE is chief executive of Sudden. Sudden is a global initiative to help people bereaved by any sudden cause and also to help the professional standards of their carers. Mary is also chief executive of Brake. Brake is a road safety charity providing the National Road Victim Service in the UK for families bereaved by death on the road, including an acclaimed and government-backed national helpline and information service. Brake also operates globally and has a domestic branch in New Zealand too.