Breaking 'taboo' of talking about grief more crucial than ever after pandemic, say counsellors

  • Video report by ITV Granada Reports correspondent Rob Smith

The need to break the "taboo" surrounding talking about grief is greater than ever after the mass losses of the pandemic, according to expert counsellors.

It can be so bad one teenager says she believes her grieving process was made longer after the death of her sister - because people thought her pain and loss could be “contagious”.

ITV News has spent months talking to therapists, and people who lost someone, for a series of special reports on how to better deal with bereavement. Experts believe the sheer numbers of deaths - and social isolation of lockdown - have left many people too overwhelmed to discuss the topic.

How we can better deal with bereavement after a pandemic where so many died in such a short space of time? We take a look in the latest episode of our podcast, From the North.

Cindy Wati, and many others, say losing a loved one during the pandemic was even more traumatic.

When the medical student’s younger sister passed away, she felt the grieving process was longer and it revealed just how many people thought her pain and the loss itself could be “contagious.”

Cindy’s 14-year-old sister, Lindsay, died in Cameroon in November 2021, thousands of miles from where she was studying in Preston.

Lindsay died, thousands of miles away, at a time when Covid restrictions prevented travel. Credit: Cindy Wati

The aspiring doctor, 19, hoped everyone around her would offer support but was shocked to find some simply did not want to talk.

“Your grief is making them uncomfortable," she said.

"It makes them think of their own loss. It makes them think of the fact that they can die, that they can lose the people they love.

“It’s almost contagious."

When asked if it was almost as if people thought they "could catch loss" from her, Cindy replied: "Yes."

The pandemic itself made Cindy’s grief even harder, when travel restrictions meant she could not be with family for the funeral.

She believes this prolonged her grief by stopping her processing what had happened.

“I feel like I stayed in denial for so long,” she said. “At the back of my mind, maybe if I go home, she will be still be here. Maybe she’s just hiding somewhere.”

Singer Sam Lyon felt that deaths became a "number on a screen" during the pandemic. Credit: Sam Lyon

The loneliness of lockdown did not help thousands to find support when they needed it.

Singer Sam Lyon, from Winsford, lost her father John soon after everyone was ordered to stay home.

"None of my friends had lost their parents," she said, and "I was on my own, in a pandemic, where I can't even leave my house."

Sam started a podcast, after her loss, to help others deal with grief and improve their mental health. Credit: Sam Lyon

"People living with grief, because they've had to deal with grief alone, it's a whole different ballgame.

"No-one should have to go through things alone.

"You don't have someone to do things with, or have a conversation, and sometimes that's all you need."

Deaths becoming a daily "number on a screen" made grief "massively" more difficult, said Sam.

"The human element was very quickly removed.

"You just saw the figures counting up and up and up, and you forget about the families of those people - the friends of those people."

"And all of those people needed support and all of those people were in isolation."

Bereavement counsellors say the pandemic has made it more important than ever to talk openly about grief. Credit: ITV Reconstruction

Counselling experts argue Cindy and Sam’s experiences are all-too-common and demonstrate how the pandemic's social isolation has reduced our ability to deal with bereavement.

Sue Johnston, from Liverpool Bereavement Service, fears the combination of unprocessed grief and an increased unwillingness to speak about loss could lead to a mental health crisis.

There is a "massive need" for support and counselling, she argues, and it makes talking about the subject "all the more important."

"It's opened Pandora's box," she said. "People are going to come forward over the pandemic for, I would say, the next 10 years.

"It's not just the people who we lost, which was tragic, it's the people that we're going to lose. We are going to lose a lot of people because they didn't get the care they needed.

"Everyone's grief is different. Grief is a bit like porridge, it spreads everywhere.

"You might be fine for five years and then, all of a sudden, you hear a record or see a cottage pie - and maybe that was your Mum's favourite meal - and you could just burst into tears."

A petition has been put to the Government, calling for how to cope with bereavement to be taught as a life skill. Credit:

One leading funeral director wants everyone to be taught ways to process grief from an early age.

John Adams launched a petition to have the subject added to the national curriculum because he is convinced it will ensure people are better prepared for a life event all will face.

"Adults, I know, aren't sure how to have conversations around death", he said.

"They are avoiding speaking to their friends because they aren't sure what to say."

The outcome of teaching children will be a "kinder and more positive society," according to John, as they will take those skills into adult society.

"We'll have a better understanding how to treat each other when we lose somebody."

An understanding, thousands who lost someone during the pandemic, need and deserve.

If you are grieving, know someone who is, or have been affected by any of the issues raised above help is available here.