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Dear Annie: Staging a grief intervention

grief intervention: hand on rainy window

Picture: Kristina Tripkovic

Dear Annie: I’m worried about our friend. In recent months she seems so changed and I’m worried she may even lose her job. She’s lost her focus and doesn’t seem to care, but won’t say what’s happening.

I’m among a group of close friends concerned she’s at a crisis point; but we’re unsure how to stage an ‘intervention.’

I’m wondering if grief is behind this. We’re aware her mum died when she was 12. She is in her 20s now and beyond the facts, it’s something she’s never wanted to talk about and so we’ve never pressured her.

As a friendship group, we know we’re here for each other, but she is closing in and won’t reach out. How can we support her, without pushing her away? – LM

Annie says: How fortunate your friend is to have such a caring supportive group of friends looking out for her. It sounds like you've all done your best to respect your friends response to the loss of her mum and remain loving and available friends, but that you feel she now might need to take a different approach. You are right to wonder if grief could be related - if it was something that wasn't expressed when she was a child, it will be something that finds its way out, invited or not.

Staging interventions are tricky. And not necessarily always appropriate or successful. I wonder if there is a gentler approach you could all take, which might mean your friend is less likely to react defensively and shut down even more. If there is one of you who is a little closer to her, it might be that you find an appropriate time, when your friend is at her most comfortable, perhaps in her own home, or somewhere familiar, that you begin to share your concerns about her.

If you keep all your statements as 'I' statements as much as possible, and stay tentative, she is more likely to hear what you're saying. For example, you could say "I may have got this wrong, but recently I've experienced you to be a little more shut off than normal, and I'm a bit worried about you - are you finding things difficult at the moment?'

If she rejects this, I would leave it there at that moment. But you could continue to do something like this fairly regularly, checking in and letting her know that you are 'seeing' her, even if she's not ready or willing to acknowledge it herself. Without knowing the severity of the changes in her behaviour its hard to advise when you should take this to the next stage, but needless to say if at any point you feel she is demonstrating risky behaviour, towards herself, or others, then you could choose to intervene by getting other people involved, such as her work, or her family.

If you’ve lost someone close to you, or been affected by a bereavement, psychotherapist Annie Broadbent is here to help. If you have a question for her to answer in this column, write to her at DearAnnie@funeralguide.com

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling book Speaking of Death (What the Bereaved Really Need), inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence