Dying conversation - death remains a taboo subject among Brits

Article date: 25 September 2002

Death is a taboo subject when it comes to conversation,according to new research launched today.

The topic is the most avoided conversational item for around onein five people, the nationwide survey by Norwich Union reveals.

Women feel more at ease discussing it than men – althoughyoung people aged 16-24 believe talking about Tony Blair andpolitical issues is even MORE of a taboo subject than death.

The research also reveals:

  • Death is seen as less of a taboo by the youngest (16-24) ANDoldest (65+) than all other age groups, while religion is thebiggest conversational taboo among 30-somethings
  • Both death and sex are considered equally taboo subjects bywomen
  • Death is seen as the biggest taboo by a quarter (24 per cent)of Londoners - far more than anywhere else in Britain, and
  • People in the North West are the most likely to openly discussdeath – only 12 per cent of people asked described death asthe biggest taboo, fewer than anywhere else

Nearly half the people questioned (48 per cent) also said theywere treated differently by others after their friend or loved onedied – and 54 per cent said advice on how to support someonewho has suffered a bereavement would be useful.

The research is published to coincide with the announcement thatNorwich Union is to support Cruse Bereavement Care, the UK’slargest and only national organisation that helps and supports thebereaved.

Norwich Union is donating £90,000 to Cruse, allowing the charityto recruit a full-time member of staff and train 10 volunteers towork on its helpline and respond to calls. Norwich Union will alsogive a further £10,000 in sponsorship to the charity’spublication ‘Cruse News’.

David Czerwinski, of Norwich Union, said: “The OxfordEnglish Dictionary definition of taboo is something that’savoided or prohibited, especially by social custom – and thatcertainly seems to be the case when it comes to talking aboutdeath.

“Our research suggests that two out of every three peoplein the UK has lost either a close family member or a friend in thelast three years – yet as a nation we still find it extremelydifficult to discuss death, and cope with bereavement.

“With nearly a third of people feeling there isn’tadequate support in place for those who suffer bereavement,we’re delighted to be supporting Cruse Bereavement Care andhelping get their message across.”

The survey found that people are most likely to turn to familymembers after a bereavement, and that women are more likely to turnto girlfriends than men are to discuss it with their malecounterparts. Just six per cent of those questioned would turn to‘a religious leader’.

Asked what they needed most to help them through theirbereavement, 46 per cent said ‘someone to talk to’– while the equal second most popular answers were family andfriends; counselling and support; and to be left alone.

Anne Viney, spokesperson for Cruse, added: “Cruse providesadvice, counselling and information on practical matters forbereaved people entirely free of charge - last year over 107,000people sought help and support from us.

“Cruse is only able to offer its services freely due tothe generosity of individuals and grant-making bodies, andwe’re delighted to receive the support of Norwich Union.

“The research findings demonstrate that people clearlyfind death a taboo subject, whether it’s discussing it withothers or seeking help. Anyone who has suffered a bereavement andwants help can contact the Cruse helpline on 0870 1671677.”

More information and advice on dealing with bereavement isavailable at www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk.

Press contact:
Howard Bowden or Gabrielle Brewer on 020 7379 0304.

Notes to editors

  • Norwich Union and Cruse Bereavement Care have teamed up tooffer 10 pointers to helping a recently bereaved friend, relativeor work colleague.
    1. Do make contact to let them know how sorry you are and thatyou’re thinking of them. A simple “I’msorry” may be all that’s needed. Bereaved people canbe very hurt if it seems that people are deliberately avoidingthem.
    2. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died,for example by recalling something kind they did or said, orthat was characteristic of them. Someone who is bereaveddoesn’t want to feel that everyone has forgotten theperson they loved, and that it’s as if they neverexisted.
    3. Be a good listener. It often helps bereaved people to talkabout the death, and they may need to do this over and overagain while coming to terms with what has happened.
    4. Don’t be afraid of tears – theirs or yours.It’s better to cry about the death than to pretend nothinghas happened.
    5. By all means ask someone bereaved how they are feeling, buttry not to impose your own views or solutions; remarks like“it was a merciful release”, “You’llhave another child before long” or even “I know justhow you feel” are generally not helpful - even thoughthey’re well meant. Only the bereaved person knows howthey feel.
    6. Do offer help – something specific that you can doreadily, such as relieving them of paperwork or standing in forthem at a meeting is better than a vague “If there’sanything I can do, let me know”.
    7. Remember that grieving can take a long time, often manymonths or even years. Anniversaries of the death, birthdays,family get-togethers and bank holidays can reinforce feelings ofloss and grief.
    8. Do continue to include the bereaved person in invitations,even though they may say ‘no’ at first.
    9. For a while, bereaved people often find it hard toconcentrate because of the shock and distress they aresuffering. Do make allowances for this.
    10. Remember that the problems of bereavement don’tdisappear after a week or two. Flexibility around workingarrangements is often greatly appreciated, for example if timeoff is needed for reasons connected with the bereavement.
  • Norwich Union commissioned Taylor Nelson Sofres to carry outresearch among 1,010 adults aged 16+, during August 2002.
  • Norwich Union – www.norwichunion.com - is the UK’slargest insurer, offering a comprehensive range of long-termsavings and general insurance products.
  • News releases are available on the Aviva plc website atwww.aviva.com, and a selection of images is available from theNorwich Union Newscast site at www.newscast.co.uk.
  • Cruse Bereavement Care is the UK’s largest and onlynational organisation that helps and supports anyone bereaved bydeath. Last year over 107,000 people sought help and support fromCruse.
  • Cruse provides advice, counselling and information onpractical matters for bereaved people entirely free of charge.Cruse’s bereavement support is delivered through itsnational helpline and a network of over 6,500 highly committedvolunteers working in the community, in 178 branches across theUK.
  • Cruse Bereavement Care, 126 Sheen Rd, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1URTel: 020 8939 9530 Helpline: 0870 167 1677 E-mail:info@crusebereavementcare.org.uk www.crusebereavementcare.org.ukCharity Reg No 208078

Back to top