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Mental Health

Social considerations

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Authors: BC Centre on Substance Use, Moms Stop the Harm, BC Bereavement Helpline, and BC Coroners


This is a chapter of the workbook Gone too Soon: Navigating grief and loss as a result of substance use.

How to inform family members and other loved ones

Try to use simple, plain language. When hearing about the death of a loved one for the first time, people may not be able to take in or retain very much information. You may need to repeat yourself, and it may be helpful to confirm that they understand what you have told them.

Ideally you can find a private space, have plenty of time, and prevent any interruptions from happening. Rehearsing beforehand can help you figure out which words you want to use. If the person becomes very upset and you can't stay with them, ask if there is someone who can come be with them.

Lots of people, even those who know and love someone who uses alcohol or other drugs, have absorbed negative stereotypes and stigma about people who use alcohol or other drugs. This might include the idea that addiction is a choice or that the person who died is responsible for their death. People with these beliefs might not respond the way you expected, they might even say hurtful things about you or the person you lost. Try not to take these statements personally. Remind yourself that our society teaches us many untrue and harmful stereotypes and myths about people who use alcohol or other drugs, and that unlearning these things takes time.

It is up to you how many conversations you want or are able to have and who you want to have these conversations with. It may feel impossible to have these conversations over and over again, and it may be a relief to ask someone like a friend or sibling to inform others about your loved one's death.


Talking to children about death

Like everyone else, children feel and express their grief in different ways. This will depend on the child's personality, their age, how close they were to the person who died, and the support they receive in the days and weeks after.

When telling a child that someone they know has died, use simple and clear words. Depending on their age, they may not understand right away and need this to be explained many times. Some children will have many questions, while others may seem to not react at all.

Like adults, many children have learned negative stereotypes and myths about substance use and people who use alcohol or other drugs. Even if the child in front of you hasn't learned these negative stereotypes and myths, depending on their age, it's likely that some of their friends and classmates have. Talking to the child about stigma and myths can help remove the sting if they hear negative statements from other children (or adults) about their loved one.

The big emotions that come with loss are hard for everyone, but can be especially hard for kids, who may not have language for what they’re feeling. Naming their emotions and sharing your own can help them find the words for what they’re experiencing.

Talking about changes in routine and explaining funerals and rituals can help your child understand what is going on.

You can help your child remember their loved one by talking about them, sharing stories and memories, and making art about the person they've lost.


Social media

It is likely that your loved one has one or more email and social media accounts (like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). If you have access to their social media accounts, you may wish to make a post about their death to inform those who may not learn of their death otherwise. It should be noted, however, that some social media platforms may have rules prohibiting non-account holders from accessing accounts. Each different platform has different rules and protocols for when a person dies. For example, Facebook will either delete their account or convert it into a memorial page. Your loved one may have already indicated which of those two choices they would like to Facebook, or you may have to make that decision by contacting Facebook through their help section. Most platforms will not provide passwords to allow you to access your loved one's account, but will delete the account if provided with a request and a death notification or obituary, and sometimes other additional documents. Some platforms may provide content from a deceased user's account in certain circumstances (i.e. Google). You can find information on managing or deleting accounts on each platform's "help" page.


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