Left behind

Military families take longer to grieve

On the one year anniversary of the end of combat in Afghanistan, SSAFA reveals the struggle faced by bereaved military families

26 October 2015

Why military families take longer to grieve

Statistics released by SSAFA reveal that it takes an average of four years for a family member who lost a loved one in war, to come forward and seek bereavement support due to the unique circumstances that surround military deaths.


As part of our research, we have also found that these families can take considerably longer to come to terms with their loss in comparison to those coping with a non-military death.

The war in Afghanistan took a significant toll on British Armed Forces, with 454 killed during the 13 year conflict, in addition to non-combat troops who are still in Afghanistan being injured and killed in the last few weeks. One year on from the cessation of combat, it is believed the full impact on the families of those who have fallen is still far from realised.

Leading behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings has spoken about SSAFA’s research findings: “In my experience of assisting those dealing with non-military bereavement issues, it takes around a year for them to come forward and seek help following a loved one’s death.  However SSAFA’s research shows a further prolonged period of struggle for those who have lost a loved one serving in the Forces.

“In my opinion there are many reasons for this delay. Most people who have a loved one in the Forces know that death is a significant risk of the job, something that can come with Service. Whilst this knowledge doesn’t lessen the grief and trauma these families experience, it can leave them feeling conflicted about their loved ones Service. Some feel that because their spouse or sibling served in the Forces, they should adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality themselves, to best uphold their loved ones memory. “

Liz Price, Director of Client Services, SSAFA, commented: “It is a year since Britain withdrew combat troops from Afghanistan, but for the families whose loved ones didn’t return from Afghanistan, the battle still goes on.

“The circumstances surrounding military deaths are often hugely complex. The families experience an all-embracing level of support from the Armed Forces in the immediate aftermath of the death but that can act as a double edged sword. It can create a suspension of disbelief which often sees the grieving process put on hold.

“Another reason the families we support can struggle to gain closure is because they may be unaware of exactly where and how their loved one died. It can be difficult to come to terms with the death without that knowledge. This, coupled with the ongoing graphic imagery and daily reminders of military deaths in the media, certainly doesn’t help with the grieving process.

“SSAFA’s Bereaved Family Support Groups can be a lifeline for these families. We owe it to those who lost their lives fighting for our country, not to forget their families and to continue to support them through their journey of grief for as long as they need us. As one of the UK’s leading Armed Forces charities, it is the least we can do.”

SSAFA’s Bereaved Families Support Groups help the parents, children and siblings of those killed whilst serving to address, manage and move on from their grief. For the last 130 years, through every World War and conflict the UK has seen, SSAFA has provided specialist support for as long as is needed for the families left behind.