Getting help from others

Most people find they need help from other people to make a full recovery.

This could mean help from people you already know, or from others, and often from both.

This page explains the people who may be able to help you, and how to access this support.

Ongoing symptoms

It is common for strong emotional reactions and physical symptoms, as described earlier in this guide, to begin to subside gradually and go away.  Your reactions and symptoms are likely to subside even though you are still grieving and very sad about what has happened. However, you may also find that some of your reactions and symptoms don't go away entirely, or come back sometimes, or even get worse.

If strong emotional reactions and/or physical symptoms do not start to subside within the first few months following a traumatic bereavement, reactions and symptoms may be described by medical personnel as a condition or several conditions.

One condition is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. People said to be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may suffer a range of on-going reactions and symptoms, including, for example, suffering flashbacks of what happened, having extreme emotional outbursts or feelings, or being very fearful and avoiding certain situations. Significant minorities of people bereaved by road crashes (up to nearly half in some studies) have been found to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [1].

Other conditions include depressive disorders and anxiety disorders. For example, people said to be suffering from depression may suffer in a variety of ways, such as struggling to feel happy or motivated or struggling to perceive a meaningful or happy future. 

Help from people close to you

Some people find family, friends, or social groups including faith groups provide important support at this time. Talking about how you feel or just having a hug may help enormously.

This is much better than bottling up your emotions.

On the other hand, you may feel you don’t have this support. You may find it hard to talk to people around you because they are grieving too and experiencing different emotions at different times. You may feel these people aren’t close enough or don’t understand you.

People around you might want to help you but not know where to start.

If you are having difficulty communicating with people around you, it may help to read this online guide together. This can help explain feelings and make it easier to support each other.

Help for children

In many ways, children have the same needs as adults. Children want to know what has happened and be given opportunities to talk about it and feel involved and loved.

It is much better to tell children things than keep them in the dark. Children have powerful imaginations and they may imagine something even worse than the truth if you don’t include them.

Someone has died in a road crash is a children’s picture book by Brake. It is for children of any age to read with an adult.

The book helps children to understand what is happening and talk about their feelings and the future with their carers. It also provides workbook space for writing down memories.

Help from bereavement charities

Some people find it helps to contact a charity that supports people bereaved suddenly or bereaved specifically by road crashes.

Different charities may offer different services, for example emotional support and information helplines, support literature, face-to-face support in your home, group meetings, or holiday retreats.

Some charity services are staffed by professionals with qualifications and experience in providing support to suddenly bereaved people. Others are staffed by volunteers who have experienced a similar bereavement themselves.

Some charities are well resourced and can offer a range of help right away. Others may have funding restrictions and limited services or waiting lists.

Drug treatments

Drug treatments such as anti-depressants are not recommended as a first-stage treatment. They are not a good alternative to expert, talk-based therapy. 

Drugs may mask rather than cure symptoms, may impede your ability to function normally, may have a range of side effects, and may be addictive and difficult to give up.

Some people bereaved by road crashes find some drugs useful to them, for example drugs that help them to sleep if they are struggling with insomina. You are recommended to consider carefully and discuss risks of any drugs you are offered and the duration over which you may take them. 

Help from an expert therapist

It is common for the feelings described in chapter one to begin to subside gradually and go away, even though you are still grieving. However, it is also common to find some or all these feelings don't go away or even get worse.

If it is a month or more after your bereavement and you are still suffering these feelings, it is time to consider seeking professional help. It is not a sign of weakness to do this. You have suffered a terrible event and are correctly putting your welfare first so you can have a positive future.

The recommended help for people who have suffered a sudden bereavement and have ongoing trauma symptoms is often confidential conversations with a psychological therapist who has training and experience in helping suddenly bereaved people to recover. Usually, this happens regularly, for example once a week for several months.

This approach is backed by government advice. For example, England's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline 116 (www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng116).

Your symptoms may be described by medical personnel as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression resulting from traumatic grief. This is normal and just a way of defining your symptoms so professionals can help you appropriately.

Finding the right therapist for you

A first step can be to visit your doctor and explain you have been suddenly bereaved, explain all your symptoms, and ask if they can provide access to an appropriately qualified and experienced therapist.

You can talk to your doctor even if your bereavement happened a long time ago.

Some doctors may have a better understanding than others of how to help. Some doctors have access to qualified and experienced therapists and others may not, or not know about them. Show your doctor these pages to help them understand your request.

I know someone else who needs help

If someone else may need help, such as another family member, show them this online guide. You cannot force someone to get help, but you can give them information to help them make their own decisions. It may also be possible for a health professional to approach someone for you.

You can also ask on behalf of any children you care for. Children can benefit from therapy just as much as adults, and there are therapists who specialise in working with suddenly bereaved children.

Hopefully you will find your therapist effective. However, some people find they have to try several therapists, a bit like trying several different drugs to cure a difficult illness. If you don’t feel your therapist is helping, you may wish to try someone different, always checking they are qualified and experienced.

Drug treatments

You may be offered drugs by your doctor, such as sleeping tablets or anti-depressants.

Some suddenly bereaved people find some drugs helpful at certain times and for certain reasons. Other people prefer never to take drugs.

Drugs may mask rather than cure symptoms, may impede your ability to function normally, may have a range of side-effects, and may be addictive and difficult to give up.

You are recommended to consider carefully and discuss with your doctor the purpose and risks of any drugs you are offered and the duration over which you may take them.

Expert therapy is the recommended treatment for suddenly bereaved people suffering ongoing trauma symptoms, not drugs.

Sad times and happiness again

Many suddenly bereaved people who are starting to feel generally more positive about life and are recovering from their shock symptoms find that bad days and sad thoughts still occur. This is a normal part of grieving.

For some people this happens particularly at times such as anniversaries. Sometimes something small such as a smell, sound, comment, or photograph can trigger sad emotions.

When something good happens it is sad the event cannot be shared with the person who died.

But it should gradually become easier to have happy thoughts about someone who has died and the joy they brought to the world. It should become easier for you to enjoy life and the experiences it brings.

For many people, being happy again is a wonderful way to respect someone who has died and the joys of life. It is not disloyal to someone who has died to feel happiness again.

 @Copyright Brake 2017

[1] Heron-Delaney M, Kenardy J, Charlton E, et al. A systematic review of predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for adult road traffic crash survivors. Injury, 2013, 44(11):1413–1422