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UCL Bereavement Study

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The impact of sudden or unexpected bereavement: a research study of the impact of sudden bereavement on the everyday life of young adults.

Funding: Medical Research Council
Duration in months 54
Official start date:
Principal researcher: Dr Alexandra Pitman
Supervisors: Dr David Osborn, Professor Michael King, Dr Fiona Stevenson
Contact details: bereavementstudy@ucl.ac.uk

Outline: The UCL Bereavement Study is funded by a Medical Research Council Population Health Scientist Fellowship. Its aim is to investigate the impact of sudden bereavement on the emotional health and social functioning of young adults. The study involves email sampling and an internet-based survey to collect quantitative and qualitative data. In 2009-10 the questionnaire was piloted in bereaved people of all ages via organisations providing bereavement support: Cruse Bereavement Care, Samaritans, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, and Widowed by Suicide. The revised questionnaire has now been sent out to over 635,000 staff and students at 37 British universities and colleges, inviting participation from people aged 18-40 who have experienced a sudden bereavement. The survey has now closed and responses were received from over 4,000 bereaved young adults. The on-line questionnaire collected information on each respondent’s relationship with the deceased, the length of time since their death, and the effect that the bereavement had had on their everyday functioning. By this we mean their social relationships, their education or employment, their emotional well-being, and other aspects of their daily life. In the second half of the questionnaire responses were provided in free-text boxes to allow qualitative analysis of important themes.  Qualitative interviews have also been conducted with a sub-sample of 27 of these participants to allow further qualitative analysis of key issues.

Aim: Our aim is to survey young adults who have experienced a sudden unexpected bereavement to measure the impact the bereavement has had on their ability to cope with everyday life.

What we mean by a sudden and unexpected bereavement: By this we mean a death that could not have been predicted and which occurred suddenly or within a matter of days. This may have been due to natural causes (for example an epileptic seizure, cardiac arrest, or a stroke), or unnatural causes (for example a road crash, homicide, or suicide).

Participation: Recruitment was via participating UK universities and colleges. Within those institutions we invited participation from people aged 18 to 40 who had experienced any sudden bereavement since the age of 10. This is because children tend to react to bereavement in different ways to adolescents or adults, and because there may be difficulties remembering events that took place in childhood. The age group chosen does not imply that that bereavement has a lesser impact in other age-groups, but allows us to focus on a specific sub-group which has tended to be under-represented in work of this kind.

Confidentiality: All data has been collected and stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Confidentiality is assured and further details are found on the links to the Information Sheets below.

Ethics approval has been given by the UCL Research Ethics Committee.  

Preliminary study: This took place in early 2010 and was an on-line survey advertised on the websites of Cruse Bereavement Care and Samaritans. The results are currently being analysed. If you took part in this study and would like to view and make comments on the draft report please email the research team:  bereavementstudy@ucl.ac.uk

Sources of bereavement support:

General practitioner: You may consider approaching your general practitioner to request further help. They will be able to discuss with you whether medication or psychological therapy will be of benefit. Many general practitioners are able to refer you to local counselling services for one-to-one counselling over a series of weeks.

University counselling service: You may prefer to consult the counselling or support services within your university or college. Some services are open to students and staff or to students only. Staff also have the option of contacting the Occupational Health Department. Details of these services should be found on the university or college website.

Crisis: In the event of feeling in crisis and at risk please attend your local hospital’s Accident & Emergency department, where they can arrange for you to be assessed by medical and nursing staff. Another resource is NHS Direct

Support from voluntary organisations

You may prefer to contact one of the voluntary organisations listed below which specialise in providing help for those who have been bereaved. They offer advice or a means of contacting others who have experienced bereavement, and the website for each provides information and links that may be useful.

Cruse Bereavement Care exists to promote the well-being of bereaved people and to enable anyone bereaved by death to understand their grief and cope with their loss. Services are free to bereaved people. The charity provides support and offers information, advice, education and training services. Helpline 0844 477 9400.

Samaritans provides confidential non-judgmental emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide. Their services are offered by telephone, email, letter and facetoface in most of their 202 branches.

Winston's Wish is a childhood bereavement charity which offers services to bereaved children, young people and their families, as well as to anyone concerned about a grieving child. They offer a helpline, group work, and residential weekends for children and young people. Helpline 08452 03 04 05.

The Compassionate Friends (TCF) is an organisation of bereaved parents and their families offering understanding, support and encouragement to others after the death of a child or children, as well as to other relatives, friends and professionals who are helping the family. They provide a helpline, local befrienders, and on-line support. Helpline 0845 123 2304.

Child Bereavement UK (formerly the Child Bereavement Charity) provides specialised support, information and training to all those affected when a baby or child dies, or when a child is bereaved. They offer an on-line forum for bereaved parents and a database of organisations that offer support to bereaved families and the professionals who care for them.

  • National Association of Bereavement Services: Helpline: 020 7709 9090 (10am – 4pm weekdays)  The National Association of Bereavement Services is a co-ordinating body for bereavement services. It promotes the provision of information about services and training, and acts as a referral agency for the most appropriate local services.

The Bereavement Advice Centre is a free helpline and web-based information service supported by ITC Legal Services. They give practical information and advice on the many issues and procedures that are faced after the death of someone close. They take calls from the bereaved as well as from the professionals and volunteers who support them. Practical advice is found on their website and they can be telephoned on 0800 634 9494

This website provides a list of resources in London.

Grief Encounter is a London-based organisation which helps families address difficult issues such as the death of a child’s parent or significant loved one. They offer a helpline (020 8446 7452 ) and support such as one-to-one counselling and residential camps.

RoadPeace is a UK charity providing support for victims of road crashes and campaigning for justice, road safety and road danger reduction. They provide direct support and specialist advice for people bereaved and injured in road crashes. RoadPeace helpline: 0845 4500 355 (local rate).

Epilepsy Bereaved is the leading voluntary organisation in the UK on Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) and other epilepsy-related deaths. It was founded as a self-help group by people bereaved through epilepsy, and offers regular meetings in the UK for people, a regular magazine, and contact with a family support volunteer. Contact: 01235 772852

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide is a self-help organisation which offers emotional and practical support to those bereaved by the suicide of a close relative or friend. Many of their volunteers have themselves been bereaved by suicide. The organisation provides a confidential telephone helpline, support information, help by e-mail, and monthly group meetings in 37 locations. Helpline 0844 561 6855.

PAPYRUS is a voluntary UK organisation committed to the prevention of young suicide and the promotion of mental health and emotional wellbeing. They offer a helpline for practical advice on suicide prevention and support young people who may be at risk of suicide as well as those who live or work with them. HOPELineUK is their confidential helpline service for people under the age of 35. It is staffed by trained professionals who can give support, practical advice and information to anyone concerned about themselves or a young person they know who may be at risk. HOPELineUK: 0800 068 4141

SADS UK offers support to those who have been bereaved through a Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS). It offers a newsletter; a web forum; retreats, seminars and conferences; and information about support groups.

SAMM offers support via a national helpline, or via home visit by trained volunteers or staff. All SAMM volunteers are themselves bereaved as a result of homicide. Support can also be provided where there are difficulties dealing with the police or other authorities. Helpline: 0845 872 3440.

SANDS is a voluntary organisation which offers support to parents if their baby dies during pregnancy or after birth. Many of their volunteers have been through this experience themselves, and help is offered not only to parents but to other members of your family, especially other children and grandparents. The organisation offers telephone advice, a web forum, and 90 local groups. Helpline 020 7436 5881.

Tel: 0870 011 3450
email: info@wayfoundation.org.uk
An organisation for people who have become widows or widowers at a young age. The Foundation has a support group, and its site has links to other relevant sites

Widowed by Suicide aims to reduce the isolation felt by those who have lost their life partner through suicide, providing emotional support and informal advice, by sharing individual experiences in a safe and secure environment. There are over 100 members in the UK and overseas, all of whom have lost their life partner to suicide. For more information on the group email: jacqui@widowed-by-suicide.org.uk

INQUEST is a charity that provides a free advice service to bereaved people on contentious deaths and their investigation, with a particular focus on deaths in custody. They offer an Information Pack containing advice to bereaved families or friends facing an inquest in England and Wales, and a casework service for those bereaved after a death in custody.

Other guidance

  • Department of Health

The Department of Health bereavement website contains links to support organisations. One recommended publication is Help is at Hand; a resource for people bereaved by suicide and other sudden, traumatic death (2010). This provides advice and the contact details of other organisations offering support, including advice for friends, family and colleagues of the bereaved. 


Information pack for bereaved people

  • ReThink:

Factsheet Support for people bereaved by suicide

  • Healthtalkonline

Healthtalkonline is an award-winning charity website which allows users to share in other people's experiences of health and illness. You can watch or listen to videos of interviews conducted by researchers at at the University of Oxford, read about people's experiences and find reliable information about conditions, treatment choices and support.

  • Scottish Association for Mental Health: The Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH), in conjunction with NHS Health Scotland and Choose Life (a ten year national strategy and action plan to prevent suicide in Scotland) has produced a fully revised and updated version of the After a Suicide booklet.

After a suicide booklet (pdf)

  • The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust

The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust aims to raise awareness of the nature and dangers of depression, reduce stigma, provide training to primary care staff and encourage those who may be depressed to seek help.

  • Websites for students:

Student Counselling in UK Universities

Students Against Depression

Important reminder: Inclusion of an organisation in this list does not guarantee that they will have a solution to your particular problem. Please be aware that information provided on internet sites may not always be reliable and particular caution must be taken when consulting sites claiming to offer medical or pharmacological advice.

Page last modified on 10 dec 12 11:09