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Online bereavement support around the clock

An online community is tackling the social isolation that can extend the grieving process.
Bereavment-iStock.jpg

An online community is tackling the social isolation that can extend the grieving process

How much difference can a virtual cup of tea make? A surprising amount, says Elise Hoadley.

A Sue Ryder hospice director with many years' experience as a palliative care nurse, Ms Hoadley knows the benefits of having someone listen to you when you're feeling down. She also knows that bereaved people can't always find the support they need at the times they need it most.

That's why the Sue Ryder charity decided to set up an online community, offering a virtual listening ear and support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The online community started in 2015, after research into experiences of bereavement

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An online community is tackling the social isolation that can extend the grieving process   


Research shows that people who do not have a source of support during bereavement
grieve for longer than those who do. Picture: iStock

How much difference can a virtual cup of tea make? A surprising amount, says Elise Hoadley.

A Sue Ryder hospice director with many years' experience as a palliative care nurse, Ms Hoadley knows the benefits of having someone listen to you when you're feeling down. She also knows that bereaved people can't always find the support they need at the times they need it most.

That's why the Sue Ryder charity decided to set up an online community, offering a virtual listening ear and support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The online community started in 2015, after research into experiences of bereavement in the UK showed that people who had someone to talk to during the bereavement process felt better more quickly than those who didn't.

'Sue Ryder isn’t represented in every town in the UK, so we thought that if we had an online platform we would be available to everybody, no matter where they were,' explains Ms Hoadley, who is director of the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Hospice. 'It’s for everyone who has an issue related to losing someone, whether it's a patient, carer, neighbour or friend. It's for anyone who wants to link in with other people, many of whom are going through the same thing.'

In its first year, the online service supported more than 24,000 people, and three quarters of users said that it helped them feel less alone.

Practical tips 

Users register for free and their details are kept confidentially by the charity. The site is moderated and unsuitable comments are removed speedily. The moderators can also react quickly where appropriate, for example, if someone discloses that they are thinking about taking their own life.

People share practical tips, says Ms Hoadley. 'I remember one person saying they'd lost their dad and they were finding it hard to sleep or were waking in the middle of the night. Some people responded with suggestions like putting a drop of lavender on the pillow, or keeping a pen and paper by the bed to write things down, or getting up to make a drink before coming back to bed.

'But what was just as important was people saying that they knew how it felt, that they had been through the same, and that it would get better. I've suffered a loss myself, and that resonated with me.'

The online community was initially launched with funding from the supermarket chain Morrisons, but is now part of the charity's ongoing plans. 'We consider it business as usual,' says Ms Hoadley, who hopes nurses in all settings will refer patients, their families and others who might benefit to the online community.

Sue Ryder highlighted the online platform at the Scottish National Party conference in Glasgow last year, with a 10-foot ball of wool on which visitors could leave messages of support. The many hundred metres of blue wool represented a 'connecting thread' uniting people to share their experiences, ask questions and talk to others who understand.

Range of experience

The charity's research found that it takes an average of around two years and one month to feel better following the death of a loved one, and that sharing experiences has a positive impact on how long this process takes. Those who didn't have support grieved for around eight months and three weeks longer, on average. Women took longer than men to start to feel better, and people aged 45-54 took twice as long as those aged 16-24.

The messages left on the forum suggest that it is a welcome resource for people of all ages. It also shows the range of people's experiences, from the man who fears he will never get over losing his wife, to the sorrow of a young woman whose mother recently died, and who resents her fiancé for having a mother who is still alive.

All messages are met with a kind response, whether it is from other people in a similar situation, or from the Sue Ryder moderator, who can signpost relevant services or link people to others in the forum.

'Often, people just want reassurance that what they're going through is "normal",' says Ms Hoadley. 

Sue Ryder's online community

  • Available to anyone who needs support for bereavement.
  • Can be used by patients, families, friends and others. Sometimes people might need help because they don't know what to say to someone about a bereavement or end of life issue.
  • Is available 24 hours a day; even in the middle of the night it is likely that someone will be online and willing to connect – and provide that virtual cup of tea.

For more information on the Sue Ryder charity click here.


Jennifer Trueland is a freelance health writer

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