Life is characterised by diverse changes that can amount to happiness or sorrow. Some of the major life changes include getting married, dealing with death and bereavement, and retirement. These life changes have a significant impact on individuals due to the adjustments required in order to go through the process.
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Thus, such changes are commonly known as critical life events and they can be a major source of stress for some individuals. This paper assesses death and bereavement as one of the critical life events by evaluating a case study on death. The case study involves George, who is a young man who loses his mother, Mrs Garry, after a long terminal illness.
How significant life events impact on individuals and their social networks
Impact of life events on individuals
Critical life events such as death and bereavement lead to a significant increase in the level of stress amongst the affected individuals. The level of stress associated with death and bereavement is high if the demise of the loved one is violent, sudden, or if the relationship between the individual and the deceased was very dependent (Cardwell & Flanagan 2005).
Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson (2000) assert that bereavement can lead to psychiatric and somatic disorders, which herald the onset of mental and physical diseases. The direct effect of death and bereavement relates to its influence on an individual’s brain and his/her psychological influence. Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson (2000, p.191) affirm that stressful life events ‘can impair immune function and increase susceptibility to infectious disease and increase cancer risk’.
Moreover, death as a life event causes situational demands to the affected individual. For example, the individual may be concerned with the scarcity of resources needed to cope with life after the bereavement. This situation is well illustrated in the case study whereby George was concerned with whether he would be in a position to take care of his family. Moreover, he was worried about what would happen afterwards.
Possible group responses to significant life events that occur to one of its members
Going through death and bereavement is one of the difficult life experiences that an individual can encounter. However, with the necessary support, the stress associated with death and bereavement can be managed effectively. One of the most effective strategies for coping with the impact of death and bereavement entails seeking group support.
The group can be a self-help group comprised of individuals who have experienced bereavement, which are organised with the objective of providing mutual support. Sturman and Mongrain (2010) posit that if the bereaved individuals do not get proper support, they may start criticising themselves, hence depression.
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Groups entail an important source of support for individuals going through significant life changes. The group members support the bereaved individual positively. This move allows the affected person to undergo the grieving process successfully without feeling isolated (Levy 2004).
For example, the group holds discussions whereby members share experiences on how they coped with death and bereavement. In this case, George sought the support of other family members who were going through similar situation. Due to the support received, he gained substantial experience that enabled him to go through his mother’s end of life phase and subsequent death.
Additionally, George received the support of a palliative care team by visiting the school where his mum taught. Through the group support, George was in a position to fulfil his mother’s dying wishes. For example, he managed to share with the pupils about his mother’s conditions and the treatment that she received.
By talking about his mum’s death, George initiated the healing process. Additionally, the group support enabled George together with the pupils to commemorate Mrs Gary’s life. The integration of the group treatment model is critical in dealing with death and bereavement.
Impact for others in health and social care when individual experiences significant life events
Individuals working within the health and social care sector usually encounter individuals going through death and bereavement in the course of executing their care services. In the course of seeking medical attention for terminally ill patients, the healthcare providers such as nurses tend to develop a strong relationship with the patient during the care administrative process (Thomas, Mason & Ford 2003). Subsequently, the death of such patients has a significant impact on the health and social caregivers.
The health and social caregivers tend to experience grief. According to Wilson and Kirshbaum (2011, p. 5), a study conducted in the US showed that staff members ‘experiencing the most grief-related symptoms were those who had worked longest in institutions and had closer and longer relationships with the patient who died’. It is important for individuals in the health and social care systems to be provided with the necessary support in order to improve their care delivery.
The personal encounter with the end of life amongst nurses and social caregivers presents a critical opportunity for the attainment of professional life. In this case, the hospital staff did not take notice of the situation faced by George.
Thus, the hospital staff did not offer support. Such gaps might affect the health and social caregivers’ ability to handle different end of life situations. Consequently, their overall performance in providing health and social care is affected adversely (Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety 2009).
The support available for individuals experiencing significant life events
Effectiveness of organisational policies and procedures in supporting individuals and social networks affected by critical life events
Health and social care entities such as hospitals should integrate effective policies and procedures in order to improve their capacity to offer the necessary support to individuals, friends, families, and social networks encountering critical life events. The fact that the hospital staff members did not identify the situation faced by George during his mother’s death illustrates a lack of organisational policies and procedures in supporting individuals going through life events.
In order to improve their service delivery, it is imperative for health and social care institutions to integrate effective standards for bereavement care in their care policies and procedures. First, the health and care institutions should ensure that their staff members are duly trained.
The Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety (2009) asserts that health and social care providers should be trained adequately in order to ensure that they develop a high understanding about death, dying, and bereavement. Additionally, the health and social caregivers should understand that grieving is a normal process.
Health and social care providers should have adequate knowledge on how to assist individuals encountering the life events according to their beliefs, norms, and abilities. In a bid to achieve this goal, health and social care providers should integrate ongoing training on all the staff members. Through this approach, the care providers will offer the necessary services (Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety 2009).
However, the health and social caregivers should ensure that the individuals encountering bereavement are safe before, at, and after death. This aspect will play an essential role in ensuring that the memories of death amongst the affected individuals do not culminate in long-term health challenges due to stress. Moreover, the health and social care institutions should ensure that the families, friends, and the social networks of the dying individual access the relevant and accurate information.
The health and social care organisations should ensure that the communication, information, and resources provided to such individuals is consistent with their needs and preferences. Providing such information constitutes a critical component of personal support to individuals and the social networks affected by critical life events.
The communication should be coordinated effectively and work in collaboration with the various departments. This approach will enable the health and social caregivers to cope with the stress emanating from extensive contact with individuals nearing the end of life and their families. Subsequently, their ability to offer the necessary support to families encountering death and bereavement will be improved remarkably (Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety 2009).
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In addition to the above aspects, effective policies and procedures amongst the health and social care institution should involve the establishment of a supportive experience. One of the issues that the organisation should take into account entails providing respect, dignity, and time to the dying individuals, friends, and families.
In certain circumstances, the institutions should respect the dying individuals’ preferences by providing them with spiritual and emotional support according to their personal needs. Apart from health and social care institutions, organisations can play a critical role in helping individuals undergoing critical life events like bereavement. The workplace should have support groups to assist employees undergoing such events (Gibson, Gallagher & Tracey 2011).
How others in social networks may offer support to individuals experiencing significant life events
Individuals in social networks may offer different forms of support to those encountering critical life events. First, friends, family members, and neighbours may spend a substantial amount of time with the bereaved individuals. Such time is dedicated to compassion where social networks support individuals undergoing significant life events (Gilbert 2014).
Members in the social networks may become aware of the fact that the bereaved individuals should be supported fully after losing a loved one. Moreover, individuals in the social network may be actively involved in supporting the bereaved person through different aspects such as preparing the funeral. Apart from their time, the social networks may offer monetary support to the bereaved, hence making the grieving period less stressful.
The social networks give the bereaved individuals an opportunity to share their experiences and feelings about the deceased. Thus, the bereaved are in a position to connect to the dead individuals’ living memories. One of the ways through which this goal can be achieved is reminiscing on the loved ones’ life, for example by sharing their photos.
With the support of the palliative care team, George was in a position to commemorate his mother’s life by sharing with her former students. This strategy is essential because it aids in relieving the memories of the bereaved person, which might be dominated by thoughts of the death.
The above assertion underscores the fact that individuals in social networks are a source of invaluable support, which involves ‘being there’ and holding the grieving parties’ hands. Such emotional support is fundamental in assisting individuals to progress through the grieving process. The social networks can assist the bereaved individuals to grieve successfully by respecting their emotions and listening to them.
The social networks are also critical in assisting the bereaved to progress through the grieving process by motivating them to resume social activities. For example, individuals in the social networks may stimulate the bereaved to participate in enjoyable social activities. This approach encourages the bereaved party to ‘continue living’, which is essential in resuming normal life activities.
Suitability of external sources of support to individuals affected by critical life events
Health and social caregivers should have the capacity to determine the nature of support that is available within their institution and the support needed by the affected individuals. The case under consideration shows that George did not have knowledge of how to cope with the fact that his mother was approaching the end of life. Subsequently, he was very stressed because he did not know how to support his dying mother. Furthermore, the hospital staff where Mrs Gary was hospitalised did not have effective support mechanisms.
Such situations underscore the importance of seeking help from external sources. The hospital staff might not have skills on how to break the news regarding the health condition of individuals nearing their end of life to the loved ones.
For example, George was stressed by the deterioration in his mother’s health during her last days such as loss of appetite. Brooker and Waugh (2013, p. 271) are of the opinion that knowing ‘what to say and when is important and nurses need to discern what information to give to the bereaved person who may be too shocked to ask anything.
Seeking external sources of support may assist the bereaved individuals to understand and cope with the grief associated with the loss of their loved ones. Seeking help from professionals may assist the affected individuals to understand the possible changes in their loved ones’ health condition.
Health and social care services’ responses to support individuals experiencing significant life events
Organisational responses to the need to support individuals experiencing critical life events
Individuals experiencing critical life events such as death might be affected by the stress associated with loss of their loved one. Thus, the lack of necessary support might increase the duration that an individual takes before recovering from such experience.
The overall effect is that the individuals’ health and wellbeing might be impacted negatively due to the long stress periods. In order to deal with the impact of critical life incidents, it is imperative for the affected individuals to have established direct contact with health and social care services institutions, the workplace, and the religious organisations to integrate effective response plan.
First, organisations should establish a response team that is comprised of specialists in different areas such as mental health, communication, and safety issues. Secondly, organisations can support individuals experiencing such situations by formulating a comprehensive procedural policy manual outlining how the organisational members are supposed to respond to significant life events. The development of such a manual will play a critical role in assisting the individuals to cope with the stress associated with bereavement.
Another response that organisations should consider in dealing with the need to support individuals facing critical life event entails training the relevant staff members on managing the stress associated with critical life events (Nassif & Wells 2013). The trained individuals should act as counsellors.
This response is essential in mitigating the likelihood of the affected individual from suffering post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. Additionally, the organisations should consider organising transition meetings, with the objective of offering informational support.
Personal contribution to the support of individuals experiencing critical life events
Going through critical life events such as death leads to a significant increase in the level of stress. Subsequently, the need for support to such individuals is critical. The support should come from both the internal and external sources.
The internal sources should include the family, friends, relatives, and the social networks. These components constitute an individual’s inner circle. The inner circles should be organised effectively in order to ensure that the personal areas of the affected individuals such as children are not neglected during the bereavement period.
Secondly, the health and social care institutions should be responsible for supporting the bereaved individuals. One of the core aspects that such institutions should consider entails offering the affected individuals counselling on end-of-life care and post-traumatic counselling. In the case under consideration, George had an opportunity to be with his mother.
However, in some situations, the death of a loved one occurs in the absence of the bereaved. Under such circumstances, the health and social care institutions should ensure that the bereaved individuals understand how their loved ones responded to treatment or their last words. It is imperative for the health and social care providers to support the bereaved in viewing the body of their loved ones.
Furthermore, organisations such as religious groups and health and social care institutions should offer support to the affected individuals by holding a number of sessions. I have been involved in several cases where I had to condole with bereaved families. One time, I had to help a close friend after he lost his mother after a long battle with terminal illness. The death was devastating, but given my experience, I helped my friend through the grieving process successfully.
In order to improve the support provided to individuals encountering critical life events, it is important for the following recommendations to be considered.
- The health and social care institutions should ensure that their staff members are trained to provide optimal end-of-life care to patients. The health and social care staff should treat such patients with respect and dignity. Thus, they should be trained on how to establish a strong relationship with such patients in order to care for them optimally.
- It is also imperative for the health and social care organisations to ensure that their staff members are given the necessary support in order to enable them deal with stress associated with death of a patient with whom they had developed a strong relationship.
- The health care institutions should integrate specialists to offer counselling to the bereaved individuals.
- The social networks should give the bereaved an opportunity to go through the grieving period by offering the necessary mutual support. One of the issues that individuals in the social networks should consider is spending time with the bereaved. This move will make the individual feel loved.
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