Complicated grief in the South African context: a social work perspective

20 April 2015

Social work in South Africa in the last decade has been shaped by the White Paper for SocialWelfare (Ministry forWelfare and Population Development, 1997) which promotes developmental social services and constitutes both traditional social work and social developmental practices. Little consideration is given in social work literature and within the developmental welfare approach on the bereaved person whose social functioning is impaired by the death experience. South Africa has a generalised HIV epidemic and currently ranks the third highest in the world in terms of the tuberculosis burden. Fatal motor vehicle accidents are a common phenomenon and crime-related deaths are reported daily. Although loss and bereavement may be included in graduate social work education in South Africa, social workers in practice are often not familiar with grief-related intervention. Social work is concerned with loss and therefore also with death and aims to bring a system approach to dying. Grief is regarded as a normal process after the death of a significant person. There is, however, evidence that 10–20 per cent of the bereaved persons may experience prolonged, traumatic or complicated grief. This article explores complicated grief from a South African social work perspective. The discussion starts off with conceptualising complicated grief in South Africa and clarification of the concepts of loss, normal and complicated grief. This is followed by an overview of some risk factors for developing complicated grief. Lastly, the focus is on the role of social work when grief becomes complicated. More research is needed on social work intervention with reference to complicated grief in South Africa.