With more than 4 million deaths due to COVID globally, and an estimated 8-9 people being significantly affected by each death, we’re entering a “grief crisis” on a scale the modern world has not seen before. As health providers around the world are struggling to give professional and timely mental health support to the bereaved, we know that the longer a bereaved person struggles alone, the more likely it is they can develop complex grief. Research shows an estimated 15% of all mental disorders arise from unresolved grief.

Here in the UK, waiting times for a bereavement counsellor from the NHS can take up to 8 to 12 months. Grief charities are receiving more calls for help than their volunteers can work with in a meaningful way. Even those working in private practice now have long waiting lists and cannot meet the demand for help.

Then there are the people who aren’t reaching out for help. For some, getting therapy is still seen as taboo, and even if it isn’t, there can be an additional barrier; that people find it hard to actually access support for themselves. This is confounded by our ignorance about bereavement; unfortunately there’s still a prevalent view that you should “just get over it” when someone close to you dies.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years of speaking with hundreds of grieving people, it’s that grief cannot be “gotten over” without putting in the work and facing it. And the sooner that work starts, the better the outcomes.

This is why I was instantly keen when Nick Begley (former Head of Research at Headspace and CEO of Psychological Technologies) connected with me to create an app based on my book Grief Works. The book had been a success, but I always felt there was a gap between the experience of someone reading one of my books and actually receiving in-person therapy with me. The idea behind the app was to use technology to help people put the advice from the books into practice; it would be something they could engage with and reach for anytime.

We launched the app to the public this summer, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Finally, anyone undergoing the terrible experience of grief can access quality support with just the tap of the phone — no waiting times or prohibitive therapy fees needed. And no one needs to know: the process is entirely personal and private.

The in-app experience is not unlike speaking with a bereavement therapist — me. Guided sessions take you through all the common experiences of the bereaved — like regret, guilt, anger, how to deal with milestone dates like anniversaries — while gently prompted self reflection exercises help you explore what’s going on inside, and finally, to find your own, unique way to what I call “the new normal.”

There is no one way to mourn, and it’s certainly not a linear process. The structure of the app is such that you can dip in and out as you wish, be guided by the sessions chronologically, or do a 5-10 minute practice when you feel the need arise (even if it’s at 3 in the morning!). This is really useful for someone grieving because oftentimes, they’re so upset that they can’t bring themselves to do any more than that. And that’s totally fine.

We’ve also heard from users and clinicians who use the app alongside weekly therapy sessions, and they’ve found that it accelerates progress, because it can be used all the time, rather than merely once a week. The journal is particularly useful in these cases because it can be shared and discussed during therapy sessions.

In an ideal world we wouldn’t need this app at all. But given the real barriers to receiving quick, accessible and effective support, I’m so glad to be able to offer a resource that I really believe in. The app has been co-created with our wonderful user base, and we’re always looking for more feedback to guide us into making it as helpful as it can be.

So please do try it out and let us know what you’ve been finding helpful or share ideas of how we could better support you and your clients.

A version of this article was first published in the fall 2021 issue of the ICCM Journal, published by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management

About the author:

Julia Samuel is the creator of Grief Works, an app for grief that Apple has named App of The Day and that users have called life-changing. She has had more than 30 years of experience helping the bereaved, as a psychotherapist and founder patron of Child Bereavement UK. She has written two best selling books, Grief Works and This Too Shall Pass, which have become essential reading for anyone experiencing a death in their life. She often gives presentations and hosts a podcast that talks not only about grief over death, but also “living losses.”

Her dedication to helping people navigate their grief has earned her an MBE.

Grief Works app is available on the App Store for £49.99 / quarter. To download and try the app Grief Works on the App Store, click here.

app for grief, grief app