Bereaved? Expect it to be more complicated than 2 years, one month, four days

counselling in exeterThe charity Sue Ryder gained a moderate amount of publicity this month for a survey it commissioned into how long people take to feel better following a bereavement. Some of the major British newspapers picked it up, including The Mail, and the Daily Telegraph as well as a few locals. The survey’s headline figure was that people, on average start to feel better in 2 years, one month and four days. Men take slightly quicker to feel better than women.

There has been little research before this about timescales for recovery after bereavement. The Royal College of Psychiatrists talk vaguely that “Most recover from a major bereavement within one or two years” and that problems can arise for some people who get “stuck” – “Years may pass and still the sufferer finds it hard to believe that the person they loved is dead” the RCP say. People are very interested in the question of how long things are going to feel like this.

So, can we trust this new piece of research from Sue Ryder? Let’s have a look at the people who carried out the survey, an organisation called Census Wide, who describe themselves as “Specialists in robust, quick turnaround surveys for the PR industry.” Ah, I see, so it was a public relations company who completed this “research”? According to their methodology page, it was probably a self-selecting sample of people via an online survey.

I’m already going a bit cold on the accuracy of the headline figure now, and you are too probably, especially if you ever read anything scientist/journalist Ben Goldacre has written about fake PR surveys. Ben’s attempts to extract the background data to one survey about the mental health of teenagers was met with silence.

How long should you expect to take to feel better? Perhaps this isn’t even the right question and that we need to acknowledge that everyone is different. As J William Worden explains in a piece by Karen Carney at Psychcentral, “The loss of a significant loved one is something that is not gotten “over.”. Carney paraphrases him like this: “According to Worden, there may be a sense that you are never finished with grief, but realistic goals of grief work include regaining an interest in life and feeling hopeful again.” That’s a whole lot more complicated than 2 years, one month and four days.