Compassion or stigma? How adults bereaved by alcohol or drugs experience services



Walter T, Ford A, Templeton L, Valentine C & Velleman R (2017) Compassion or stigma? How adults bereaved by alcohol or drugs experience services. Health and Social Care in the Community, 25 (6), pp. 1714-1721.

How to promote compassionate care within public services is a concern in several countries; specifically, some British healthcare scandals highlight poor care for service users who may readily be stigmatised as ‘other’. The article therefore aims to understand better the relationship between stigma and compassion. As people bereaved by a drug- or alcohol-related death often experience stigma, the article draws on findings from a major British study, conducted during 2012–2015 by the authors, of people bereaved in this way, in order to see how service provision can be improved. One hundred and six bereaved family members were interviewed in depth about their experiences of loss and support. Thematic analysis developed theoretical understandings of participants’ lived experiences. This article analyses our data on how bereaved people experienced stigma and kindness from practitioners of all kinds. We found that stigma can be mitigated by small acts of kindness from those encountered after the death. Stigma entails stereotyping, othering and disgust, each of which has emotional and cognitive aspects; kindness entails identification and fellow feeling; professionalism has classically entailed emotional detachment, but interviewees found cold professionalism as disturbing as explicit disgust. Drawing on theories concerning the end of life, bereavement and emotional labour, the article analyses the relationship between stigma, kindness and professionalism, and identifies some strategies to counter stigmatisation and foster compassion.

alcohol; bereavement; compassion; disenfranchised grief; drugs; professional detachment; stigma

Health and Social Care in the Community: Volume 25, Issue 6

Publication date30/11/2017
Publication date online28/09/2015
Date accepted by journal09/07/2015

People (1)


Dr Allison Ford

Dr Allison Ford

Associate Professor, Institute for Social Marketing