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Comic supports young people in dealing with bereavement

Detail from front cover of When People Die: Stories From Young People. Artwork by Mark Brown

A comic aimed at helping young people deal with grief and bereavement has been produced in a project involving the University of Strathclyde.

Teenagers from across Scotland shared their experiences of loss with academics from Strathclyde and project leaders at the University of Dundee. The result was a 40-page publication titled When People Die: Stories From Young People, with images, stories and insights that arose from a series of workshops held at HMP & YOI Polmont and the charities Richmond's Hope, Barnardo’s Scotland and Children's Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS).

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The intention of the year-long project was to explore how comics can help generate reflective and confident life stories for young people who have experienced bereavement and help destigmatise conversations about loss and grief. In doing so, the comic will not only directly reach out to young people but will also enable parents, carers, teachers and peers to provide better support in the event of bereavement.

Detail from cartoon in When People Die: Stories From Young People. Story by Emily Gunn, artwork by Katie Quinn.

Nina Vaswani, a Research Fellow with the Strathclyde-based Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ), was a partner in the project. She said: “I’m so pleased to see this important comic launched during National Grief Awareness Week. We know that bereavement is something that is experienced by many children as they grow up, and we also know that, with the right support from family, friends and professionals, many children can adapt to and learn to live with their loss, without any significant long term negative effects.

"But we hear from parents, carers and teachers that, despite wanting to offer support, they often lack the confidence, knowledge or skills to talk about death, dying and bereavement with children. Understandably, it can be difficult for people to know what to say, or what to do, in a time of grief.

“We want to help normalise and support conversations with children about death, bereavement and grief, and that’s where this comic comes in. Comics are a great way to reach a wide audience, and are an important medium for communicating difficult or sensitive messages. When words might be hard to find, an image can tell the story instead.

“All of the stories in this comic have come from children and young people who have been bereaved themselves, and who wanted to share their experiences to help others. We hope that their honesty, courage, wisdom and creativity will help provide information and comfort to other children who have been bereaved, as well as being a resource for parents, carers and teachers of all children to help create discussion and dialogue.

“Most of all thanks must go to the children and young people themselves, and the comic artists who worked with them to document their stories, who have been instrumental and inspirational in creating this comic.”

The comic forms is output from a project, Developing Confident Life Stories About Child Bereavement, funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute. Dr Susan Rasmussen, Senior Lecturer in Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences & Health, is Strathclyde’s overall lead researcher on the project.

Janet O’Connor, a social worker with CHAS who supported participants during each workshop, said: “We are delighted to contribute to this project and support young people to share their stories. Working in partnership with young people who have experienced bereavement means the comic reflects genuine insights and has an authentic voice that will hopefully help other young people who are experiencing grief.”