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New programme helps those suffering prolonged grief

By Susan Gately - 10 January, 2014

Up to 7,000 people in Ireland can suffer each year from ‘Complicated Grief’ according to the Irish Hospice Foundation. This health condition can last for years or even decades after a death.

“In complicated grief, people experience intense yearning and experience little joy or satisfaction in their lives. The loss impacts on every area of their lives,”  according to Dr Susan Delaney, one of the doctors involved in the programme. 

Dr Susan Delaney, Bereavement Services Manager, IHF

Dr Susan Delaney, Bereavement Services Manager, IHF

She told CatholicIreland.net that people suffering from complicated grief will often themselves realise that they have a problem.

“Sometimes concerned people can point to difficulties but many times the person themselves will say ‘I just am not improving, I’m not getting over it, I feel worse now.’”

According to Dr Delaney, grief is different for each person, but most people are back to their previous level of functioning after two years.

“The majority of people will report that 6 months after the death, they feel they have moved on in their grief while still missing the person,” she added.

Yesterday IHF, the charity which promotes and supports the development of hospice and palliative care, announced a new Complicated Grief Programme for Ireland to support bereaved people who have become overwhelmed by their grief.

About 290,000 people are bereaved in Ireland every year, and between 3,500 and 7,000 people are at risk of developing complicated grief.

For most people, grief becomes more manageable with time and people find their own way through it with the support of family and friends, Caroline Lynch from IHF said. “In complicated grief, the natural grieving process is derailed.”

Complicated grief is now recognised as a mental health issue and has been included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Research has indicated that a treatment approach, such as that developed by American bereavement expert ,Dr Kathy Shear, is effective in helping people come to terms with a difficult reality and facilitates a return to a good level of functioning.

Dr Katherine Shear

Dr Katherine Shear

Dr Shear, who came to Ireland to launch the programme and is currently conducting a workshop for 30 Irish practitioners on how to implement the treatment for complicated grief that she has pioneered, is Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University School of Social Work in New York.

She is also a consultant to national and international groups working in bereavement and grief.

According to Dr Susan Delaney, people can recover from complicated grief.

“Although we are forever changed by bereavement, it is possible to return to a good level of functioning when the person is remembered with love rather than pain and where the bereaved person again finds purpose and contentment in their life. The grief is back on track.”

Dr Shear’s treatment protocol is 16 weeks and according to Dr Delaney, most people will report significant improvement in their symptoms in this time.

“We are treating the complication of grief and getting the natural healing process activated so that the grief that was acute becomes integrated in their life.”

Work in the area of bereavement is a core activity for the Irish Hospice Foundation which has established a national education and resource centre from which it provides a comprehensive range of education and training programmes as well as resources on bereavement.

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