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Collective grief and shared loss, the psychology of national mourning


Following the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II, many people will be grieving and feeling loss. Psychologists from the British Psychological Society (BPS) have explained the psychology behind collective grief and national mourning, and how to cope if the death of the Queen triggers emotion and grief for you.


Professor Nichola Rooney, a chartered member of the BPS, explains the idea of collective grief, but also that we will all experience it slightly differently: “Collective grief is how we describe the reaction of a group of people (usually a nation, region or community) who experience the death of a significant figure from that nation/community or experience multiple deaths. While many will mourn individually, what we are witnessing so clearly in the media is the expression of collective grief. For many of us the death of Queen Elizabeth II has been the first time grief had been so widely displayed and discussed at a national level, with the numerous events and rituals and constant media coverage.


“It’s important to remember however that while grief is universal and is a normal response to loss that we will all experience during our lifetime, while there are some acknowledged similar experiences and reactions to loss, grief is unique to all of us. It is determined by our relationship with the deceased, to the meaning of their loss and how it effects our life."


As well as collective grief, for many they may be experiencing, ‘re-grief’, with the death of the Queen and the media coverage triggering grief and emotions for loved ones lost, no matter how long ago they passed.


“Talking about dying is not something that we do very well in Western cultures, so this collective grief can often be difficult to deal with," says Professor Rooney. “It can feel overwhelming and it can also trigger feelings about our own losses and experiences of grief and exacerbate existing psychological distress.


“For some people who lost loved ones during the pandemic there may be some feelings of resentment that the death of the monarch has involved so many memorials and opportunities to express grief. During the pandemic these rituals were denied to the grieving and our unprocessed collective grief from the pandemic, has undoubtedly been touched. But for all of us, the death of Queen Elizabeth and the huge media coverage can trigger grief for loved ones who have died, no matter how long ago.


“While this is a difficult time for many, there can actually be some benefits to seeing others mourn a loss in such an open way. It can give us permission to revisit our own experiences and to express our own grief again. We can find comfort through our connection to others with the same lived experience.”


If you are struggling following the death of a loved one, or increased anxiety/feelings of loss following the Queen’s death, the following places can serve as sources of support:

  • Cruse Bereavement Care – offers face-to-face, telephone, email and online support for anyone who has experienced a loss.

  • Child Bereavement UK - provides support for anyone who has lost a child, and for children themselves who are bereaved.

  • NHS support services