DDN 0715 - page 14

In such cases, many interviewees had found
out about the death from the police, and
found the proceedings ‘complicated, confusing
and lacking in consideration of their needs,’
said McKell. The first key message, therefore,
was to show kindness and compassion to
family members, who said they were often
poorly informed about the processes that
would take place after such a death, causing
them more distress.
The bereaved often felt a lack of empathy
from the professionals they came into contact
with. There was a lack of humanisation of the
deceased, with family members feeling as
though their loved one – and they themselves
– were being stigmatised.
This was closely tied to another key point –
the importance of language. Many family
members often felt as though they had to hide
the real cause of death, said McKell, fearing
the stigma associated with drug use and the
idea that the death was somehow ‘self-
inflicted’ and not the same as other kinds of
bereavement. ‘You get a label on you, you are
labelled... it’s as if, when she died, “Oh another
one bites the dust”,’ said one interviewee of
her experience.
Using language like ‘junkie’ or ‘drunk’ made
the bereaved feel as though they were the
subject of judgement from others, causing
them to isolate themselves from possible
sources of support.
These people were dealing with ‘complex
emotional reactions’, said researcher Lorna
Templeton, which made it crucial to treat every
bereaved person as an individual – a third key
message. Emotions could be a diverse mix of
relief, guilt and grief, and so support needs
would vary from person to person.
Professor Richard Velleman, another
member of the research group, discussed how
the number of professionals that family
members came into contact with could be vast
– from police to lawyers and funeral directors,
many of whom didn’t understand the issues
surrounding drug and alcohol addiction.
This meant many of these professionals
felt they were not equipped to offer support,
so it was crucial to empower them with
the right kind of knowledge to make a
contribution to the care of bereaved
families – another key point of the
With the guidelines now ready to be
distributed, the event gave stakeholders
the opportunity to discuss what could be
improved, and how the information could
be disseminated effectively. The final
message of the research was that
professionals needed to work together to
share knowledge and good practice with
those who needed it, to ensure that the
needs of bereaved families were being
met and that they would no longer have
to suffer ‘disenfranchised grief’.
For more information, and for
copies of the guidelines, visit
14 |
| July/August 2015
Family support
Family support groups & info:
How can support be
improved for those
bereaved through
drug or alcohol-
related deaths?
A new set of
guidelines offers
advice for
professionals who
come into contact
with this poorly
understood group,
Kayleigh Hutchins
A right to grieve
here is a vast difference between
listening and hearing,’ said
DrugFAM’s Gill Owen Conway at
an event to launch the
through substance use
guidelines last month.
Developed after three years of research by the
universities of Bath and Stirling, the
guidelines were presented to an audience
made up of researchers, family members and
care professionals for feedback, and to
provoke a much-needed discussion.
The research was prompted by the gap in
knowledge in how to respond to this isolated,
poorly understood group, whose needs were
often overlooked. The project conducted in-
depth interviews with bereaved family
members, detailing their experiences and the
type of care they had received –
which was often ‘found wanting’.
The guidelines were developed by
a working group based on this, and
highlighted five key messages that
were aimed at improving support,
as well as providing examples of
good practice.
Interviewees were drawn from
Scotland and the SouthWest of
England, and were mostly female,
according to researcher Jennifer
McKell, as women were found to be
much more likely to open up about
their emotions than men. More than
half were parents, and included family
members of people who had died after
a long history of drug or alcohol use, as
well as from sudden overdoses.
Main pic,
from left to right:
Jennifer McKell,
Alison Ford,
Lorna Templeton,
Peter Cartwright,
Christine Valentine,
Gordon Hay,
Linda Bauld,
Richard Velleman,
Tony Walter
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