Mental health issues

When I started working in the funeral industry in 1957, society was very different. Anxiety and depression were viewed very negatively and those who were finding life challenging were encouraged to pull themselves together and have a “stiff upper lip”. People who suffered with mental health issues were thought to be “suffering with their nerves” and, much to our shame as a nation, those who were particularly public in the symptoms of their mental illness we even locked away.

Thank goodness society has changed. There’s more to be done, but we are more compassionate toward those with mental health issues and do more to help. We understand mental health far better than we ever did.

Better attitudes

It’s now recognised that anxiety and stress are significant contributing factors to people’s ill health and even premature death. Anxiety is no longer dismissed as a sign of weakness and people are encouraged to talk, seek help, and concentrate on their wellbeing.

Perhaps the biggest change is that mental illness is no longer seen as weird but as a normal part of our overall health. I’ve seen this shift in everyday life. GPs diagnose walks and pets instead of drugs, HR departments take mental health into account in contracts of employment, and a multitude of mobile Apps focus on sleep, prayer, meditation, and mental wellbeing.

A new normal

Covid had a world changing effect and we, in the funeral industry, we’re on the frontline. Not only was there a significant increase in the number of deaths, but consequent restrictions made an impact on our clients too. People were dying alone, and their families were watching through windows. Limits on the numbers of mourners at funerals and a complete ban on gatherings after services changed the way people had to say goodbye to their loved ones. And after it all, the bereaved were more alone than ever as they tried to cope with their grief in isolation.

It was hard to watch, but all of us in the funeral industry did our very best to help. Technology helped in some ways. Funerals were live streamed, and families could gather online, but it was no replacement for getting together, sharing stories, and hugging. Our teams continued to do what they have always done; treating everyone with compassion while remaining entirely professional. They listened to so many lovely people struggling with anxiety and grief and signposted them to charities, communities, and professionals where they could find more help.

Unexpected consequences

But there was an impact on our staff too. The work was relentless at the height of the pandemic. There was constant stress and worry, because we were in the frontline of the battle to control the spread while coping with the same challenges as other families with children; including home schooling and paying the bills. All of it had a real effect on the mental health of our staff and families as they managed with daily anxiety and stress.