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Bereavement and death

Police are routinely exposed to death and loss.

Attending fatal incidents, dealing with families who have lost someone and investigating cases involving death are the most common worst-reported experiences on the job.

Bereavement and loss

Police are routinely exposed to death and loss. Attending fatal incidents, dealing with families who have lost someone and investigating cases involving death are the most common worst-reported experiences on the job. Whether it is being witness through work to the emotions and suffering of relatives and friends of others who are deceased or it is the death of a loved one in your own personal lives, or loss of a colleague , bereavement and loss are a big part of policing and every loss you experience is different and unique.

The challenges of your work

The nature of the work you do in policing means that you’re exposed to death far more than the average person. You need to be professional when working, yet this can be challenging if you’re encountering a death that really moves you. It’s times like these when it can be hard to manage our emotions as caring, feeling people and ‘getting on with the job’.

This constant work tension can have implications if you then experience a bereavement in your personal life. It might mean that you have a more intense grieving process, but it might also mean that you have a more detached grieving process. It is also very possible that at some point you develop grief symptoms from your work, from being around other people’s grief and losses. This can be confusing and shocking, but it is really understandable when you consider not only the amount of death that you see, but also the many ways our society unhelpfully encourages us to push our feelings about death aside, rather then engage with it. Death simply isn’t something we can ignore, as much as we might want to.

Over time, you will no doubt have naturally developed skilled coping methods to handle and process all the death you encounter. These ways of coping may serve you well in the work you do, but there may be times when these methods don’t work as well as they used to. It’s good to know when to recognise those times. When this happens, it’s a good sign that seeking out some help and support is likely to be really helpful. This doesn’t make you weak, just sensible, and human.

Coping with grief

Experiencing the death of a loved one can have an enormous impact on our health, wellbeing, and ability to function in daily life. Whether the bereavement is a family member, partner, child, friend, colleague, pet, or someone else you care about, the loss moves us into a grieving process.

For some people, a grieving process happens immediately, and for others it can be months or even years before it really hits. It is important to understand that while there are some general stages (hyperlink to stages of grief – not yet included) that happen when we grieve, there is no ‘typical’ or ‘right’ way of grieving and you may not know how it will affect you at the time.

Grief can affect us in the following ways:

  • Sleep – It can be difficult to go to sleep, and/or to stay asleep. Insomnia can occur, but so can the opposite, where we just want to sleep all the time.
  • Mood – We may have spontaneous bouts of crying, irritation, and anger. Depression, anxiety, overwhelm, and fatigue might increase. We could have suicidal thoughts and feelings, or a preoccupation with thoughts of death. We might self-medicate through an increased use of alcohol or other substances to cope, which is likely to intensify our suffering.
  • Cognition – It can be very hard to focus and concentrate on daily tasks. We might also experience rumination (intrusive thoughts we can’t stop), or difficulties and gaps in memory.
  • Appetite – We might overeat to comfort ourselves or experience a lack of appetite and interest in food. As a result, we might lose or gain weight.
  • Relationships – There can be a strong desire to want to be on our own, and we might then pull away from others, withdrawing deeply into ourselves. We might bottle up emotions, and not feel able or willing to communicate with others - even those we’re closest to.

It’s really important to keep an eye on how you’re doing, because you might need some extra support from your GP, friends, family, and workplace when actively grieving. It’s ironic yet true that the times when we most need support are the very times when it’s hardest to reach out for it. Being pragmatic about how we feel (not denying it) is key to our resilience. Research has shown that talking – even a little – about what’s happening for you really helps. Talking can ease the complications and intensity of the grieving process and is known to help the brain make sense of some of life’s most difficult experiences.

Additional support

Occ Health and your GP – staying connected with your health care providers

Cruse Bereavement Care – a charity focusing on grief information and counselling support

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