The death of Princess Diana not only created a shared sense of mourningamong Australians, it also had a much stronger impact on some people'sphysical and mental health, according toa new study.
Research conducted jointly by Adelaide and Flinders universities inAustralia reveals there was a dramatic increase in demand for supportgroup and counselling services in the city of Adelaide, South Australiain the weeks immediately following Diana Spencer's death.
More than 50% of services in metropolitan Adelaide that specialise ingrief counselling experienced an increase in requests for help-notnecessarily because those suffering grief were concerned for Diana orher family, but because her death had made them relive their ownexperiences of losing loved ones.
While most support services faced a 25% increase in calls from thepublic, one service received as much as 75% more calls. In many casesthe services-including both specialist grief support services and themore general counselling ones-weren't prepared for the rise in need fromgrieving members of the public.
Princess Diana died from injuries received in a car crash in Paris on 31August 1997. Her death shocked millions of people around the world in away not felt since the assassination of US President John Kennedy inthe 1960s.
Such high-profile deaths can have a major impact on the public, says DrSheila Clark (Department of General Practice, Adelaide University), whoconducted the study with Mr Michael Bull (Department of Social Work &Social Administration, Flinders) and Ms Katherine Duszynski (GeneralPractice, Adelaide).
"There've been papers written showing the impact that deaths of famouspeople have on psychiatric patients, but nothing's really been donebefore on the impact on the general public, how much it affects them andthe way it affects them," Dr Clark says.
What surprised the researchers wasn't the increase in demand forgrief-related support services, but the wide variety of reasons behindit. In most cases it was because Diana's death had reminded the publicof their own losses. People sought counselling for past incidents suchas:
*the death of a young person (particularly of Diana's age) or achild; *death of a young spouse (identifying with Charles); *death of parents (identifying with William and Harry); *an accidental death (in particular motor vehicle accident) or a suicide; *deaths in which media coverage was a feature.
People suffering anxiety disorders or post traumatic stress disorderwere also deeply affected by Diana's death.
"There were a few who phoned up just because they were concerned aboutDiana and her family, but they were in the minority. The real issue wasthis 'retriggering' of people's grief," Dr Clark says.
"Some of these people were not only experiencing emotional issues butalso physical health issues which accompanied their grief.
"Serious complications of grief include depression, anxiety, substanceabuse-such as alcohol and medication abuse-relationship breakdown anddays lost from work. Some of the people who phoned counselling servicesfollowing Diana's death were using medication because of the resurgenceof their own grief," she says.
Another major issue was the increased workload experienced by supportservices following such a public event.
"We asked the organisations what lessons they had learnt through this.Many of them felt that they were unprepared for the number of callers,that the people who worked in these organisations were emotionallyunprepared, they were surprised at the impact Diana's death had had, andthat the counsellors themselves-many of whom have suffered their owngriefexperiences-felt very drained as a result."
Dr Clark says in some small way, Diana's tragic death could serve a goodpurpose. She says there are many positives to come out of this research,such as showing support services the importance of being prepared forhigh-profile deaths.
"Although these deaths don't often happen, organisations should have acontingency plan for such events, and they should also have adequatenumbers of back-up staff who they can call in when their resources arestretched.
"It may also lead to better education among the community about thekinds of services available to them, and how to better cope withpersonal grief."
Dr Clark's work in this area follows the highly successful launch latelast year of Grieflink, a website, funded by the Department of HumanServices, to provide information about the various grief-related supportservices available in South Australia. The site is a joint projectbetween Adelaide University's Department of General Practice and theNational Association for Loss and Grief (SA) Inc.
Grieflink recently won an international award from a US company for its"high quality and unique content". Other Australian States are nowexpressing an interest in expanding the SA website to encompass servicesoffered throughout the nation.
To find out more, visit: http://www.grieflink.asn.au.
Media contact: Dr Sheila Clark, General Practice, (08) 8303 3463 (w),0412 594 338 (mobile), (08) 8263 9388 (w) or (08) 8332 4218 (h).
Media photos at: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/PR/media_photos/
Rob Morrison, Media, Marketing & Publications Unit, Office of theVice-Chancellor.
Materials provided by Adelaide University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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