New figures reported by Independent Age show older people are half as likely as younger generations to seek support following the loss of a loved one

Nearly four in five older people have not been made aware of the emotional support available to them after experiencing bereavement, new research from national charity Independent Age has discovered.

The charity, which supports older people, their families and carers, revealed 78% of people aged 65 and over who have experienced a bereavement were not given information about what emotional support was available to them. Just 4% of them sought extra support outside of friends and family, compared to 9% of those under 65.

Concerns have also been raised about the lack of availability and access some experience, even after being told about support on offer. Of the 8% of British adults of all ages who seek extra support following a bereavement, a little over half (57%) received said support within a reasonable timeframe. One in 10 (12%) are unable to access support at all.

Prolonged grief disorder (when you experience acute grief over a sustained period of time, often occurring when the ‘normal’ grieving process is interrupted) can be experienced at any age. Around 10% of those who experience bereavement are thought to go on to experience prolonged grief disorder, though the impact the pandemic has had in interrupting traditional ways in which we can say goodbye in hospitals or at funerals may have increased this in recent years.

Chief Executive of Independent Age, Deborah Alsina MBE, commented:

“Grief is a painful and challenging aspect of life, but often older people’s experiences of bereavement are diminished or considered not as important. Not everyone will require additional support following the death of a loved one, but some will, and this is no less true for people aged over 65.

“The lack of proactive signposting to support services for older people that we’ve uncovered is incredibly concerning, especially as we know older people are less likely to seek out this support for themselves. It is vital that people are made aware of the support that is available to them.”

Bereavement: What’s normal?

The death of someone we care about is never easy. Bereavement is the time we spend adjusting to the loss we have experienced, whether that loss was expected or unexpected. While grief is a normal and healthy reaction to loss, how it manifests can vary greatly from person to person. It can even trigger other mental health conditions, such as depression.

While how we each mourn our loss and express grief varies, it’s important to remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to work through it. While many will go through the four stages of grief at some point, this isn’t always the case.

Counselling for bereavement can help you to better understand the process of mourning, as well as to explore areas that may be holding you back and preventing you from moving on. Together with an experienced, qualified therapist, you can work through areas of conflict that may remain, adjust to your new sense of self, and address any potential issues that may arise such as depression or suicidal thoughts.

Recognising the different effects grief can have on yourself and others can be tough. Feeling reluctant or unable to get out of bed, neglecting personal hygiene or general appearance, feeling unable to work, or not eating properly can all be common ways of coping with grief. As long as they do not go on for a very long time, they are considered normal parts of the bereavement process.

However, if you or someone you know who is going through bereavement begins to drink a lot more than they usually do, start or are tempted to take illegal drugs, experience or express suicidal thoughts, act recklessly, or begin behaving violently, it could be a sign that extra help is needed.

Accessing bereavement support

There are a number of different charities, organisations, and independent options which can offer support following the loss of a loved one.

Parents, families, children, and young people who have experienced the loss of a child can contact Child Bereavement UK. Helping young people up to the age of 25 and families to rebuild their lives, Child Bereavement UK offers free, confidential support via video, telephone, and instant messenger, to those living throughout the UK.

Cruse offers personalised bereavement support and information for everyone via their volunteer helpline, as well as through online chat with experienced grief counsellors.

Grief Encounter supports children and young people, working closely with individuals, families, schools and professionals to help them with anxiety, fear and isolation caused by grief. Grief Encounter offers one-to-one counselling, music, art and drama therapy, as well as a free, confidential helpline, email, and chat service.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) offers emotional and practical support for those affected by suicide.

Or to find bereavement services, resources, information, or access live chat, At a Loss offers signposting towards more bereavement support.

To find an experienced, qualified grief and bereavement counsellor or therapist, visit Counselling Directory or enter your details below to find an expert near you.

Find the right therapist for you at Counselling Directory.