Media Release Public deaths force a rethink on grief and bereavement services

20 May 2019

Greater media coverage of deaths and accidents is impacting the way people grieve, according to Australia’s largest provider of grief and bereavement support and education.

The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement (ACGB) will host a public lecture this week which aims to tackle the complicated issue of public deaths, and explore how ‘secondary harm’ – harm experienced by bereaved people through processes such as legal and coronial investigations – can be minimised.

The Annual Grief Lecture: Death in the Public Eye will address the many factors grieving people must cope with following a public death. The topic is particularly relevant given how such incidents are nowadays being reported in traditional media and broadcast more widely through social media.

Coroner Rosemary Carlin, academic Dr Jane Mowll, ABC journalist Karen Percy, lawyer Dr Ian Freckleton, and patron and founder of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Walter Mikac AM – who has been a vocal campaigner and advocate for gun restrictions since his wife and two daughters were killed in the Port Arthur massacre – will take part in a panel discussion on how grief and bereavement should be dealt with in the public eye.

ACGB Chief Executive Christopher Hall said that as a culture we view grief as a uniquely private experience. But we often don’t give enough credence to the idea that we grieve in a social context.

“We grieve in the context of families, work places and even in the context of our social communities,” Mr Hall said. “A death, which is traditionally and culturally a private event, can become public very quickly, especially through social media – just look at some of the recent world events we’ve seen.”

“Where a death or multiple deaths may have been reported in traditional media in the past, we now often see deaths recorded and replayed on social media channels for the world to see – that is confronting and challenging for bereaved people as well as for the affected social and cultural communities.”

“When a death becomes public, it fractures that private way of grieving, and that has implications for the bereaved person(s) and broader society, and we often see tensions between the public interest and privacy.”

“Public deaths mean bereaved people often have to deal with much more than their own grief. They also sometimes need to navigate the worlds of media, the legal system and the coronial process.

“The legal, coronial and media journeys can be really stressful and confronting processes for bereaved people, and we want to explore the impact of a private grief made public.”

“This year’s panel discussion aims to address some key questions. For example, how can the legal system operate in a way that is helpful? How can we eliminate the chance of further harm being inflicted on bereaved people by having the law and the media operate more therapeutically and sympathetically?”

Mr Hall said that on average, each death in Australia leaves five bereaved people in its wake, with ten percent of these people experiencing chronic and disabling grief.

“We need to better understand the needs of those grieving people who experience the added complexity of the publicised death of a loved one, but we also need to overcome our desire to protect bereaved people; they often have a yearning to make sense of these complicated situations, and we as a society need to be able to better help and support them. That’s where the ACGB comes in.”

“We want to create a meaningful conversation about the various facets of public deaths and explore ways that these facets can meet the needs of bereaved people, the legal system and the general public.”

The Annual Grief Lecture: Death in the Public Eye

Thursday 30 May, 2019

Time: 6:30-8pm

Location: Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library of Victoria Entry 3, 179 Latrobe Street, Melbourne

Price: ACGB Member  - Free. Non-member - $30.

For the first time, the Annual Grief Lecture will be broadcast via webcast to audiences around the country and around the world.

About the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement

The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement (ACGB) is the largest provider of grief and bereavement education in Australia. The independent, not for profit organisation opened in January 1996, and received operational funding through the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to build the capacity of individuals, organisations and communities in order to enhance well-being following adverse life events.

Media Contact:

Chris Hall

Mobile: 0419 381 377