Grief is a universal experience that affects everyone at some point in their lives. As we age, grief accumulates, whether it's the death of a life partner, relatives or friends.
Symptoms of grief can include profound sadness, anxiety, anger, confusion, a sense of emptiness and a loss of interest in daily activities. These emotions can be exacerbated by loneliness, social isolation and health problems.
The majority of bereaved people come to terms with the loss and move on. However, some people (up to 1 in 5) experience great distress that does not go away despite the passage of time, especially if the death occurred violently or in a traumatic context such as a pandemic.
How can we help these people who are unable to grieve?
What the research tells us
A recent evidence synthesis identified 16 systematic reviews of interventions to alleviate bereavement symptoms.(1) These studies identified 19 types of intervention. These interventions were classified according to two broad approaches, those based on theory and those based on technique.
Approaches based on psychological theories
These approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, as well as art and music therapy. Whether in one-on-one meetings with a therapist or in support groups, it's always good to be able to talk about what you're feeling, and to go through the various stages of grief in a safe, comforting environment. This helps to reduce some of the symptoms of grief, such as anger, guilt, despair and sadness. The interventions that seem to work best are those that help develop self-regulation strategies, promoting optimism and avoiding negative thoughts.
Approaches not based on psychological theories
These approaches go beyond the conventional framework of therapy, targeting the psychosocial dimension of grief and not just psychological problems.
Results show that participation in support groups, home visits, follow-up calls, peer support and reminiscence help reduce isolation and bereavement symptoms, as well as increasing well-being. Physical activities such as walking, yoga and cycling, as well as massage, help to release emotions and regain a sense of freedom.
Other interventions examined in this category, such as receiving letters of condolence or phone calls from friends, did not show clear results in terms of effectiveness in reducing grief symptoms.
Are you grieving?
Here are some tips and resources to help you:
- Seek emotional support from loved ones to ease your pain.
- Join bereavement support groups. Sharing similar experiences helps reduce isolation and fosters a sense of community.
- Get support from a therapist or mental health professional to learn how to deal with grief constructively.
- Maintain social ties, participate in social activities or community events to regain a sense of normalcy and feel surrounded.
- Express yourself artistically to release your emotions creatively.
- Mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and promote a sense of inner calm.