You are here: Frontline perspectives on the loss literature review

Nikki Aitchison, Employment and Development Worker at Aspire Oxford, reflects on our literature review on the prevalence and impact of loss and trauma on people experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage.

My name is Nikki and I work for a Social Enterprise called Aspire. We are based in Oxford and we work with people experiencing homelessness, prison leavers, and people recovering from drugs and alcohol misuse, ex-military, young people support and many others who have / are experiencing multiple disadvantages. I lead a sport and activity project called STRIVE which aims to help people improve their well-being through physical activity. We try to have fun, get fitter and help people to build positive social networks. I also work as a ‘Get Connected’ Employment and Development worker; working in partnership with Turning Point. We help people to ‘Get Connected’ and reintegrate back into the community through hobbies, activities, education, training or finding meaningful employment.

In this short blog I would like to be a bit more subject specific and speak about loss (the fact or process of losing something or someone). If you have a Google search that’s the definition that you’ll find. I would like to speak about loss in a broader sense. Loss of a home, a job, a relationship, your identity or loss of purpose. Not just bereavement. I am not a specialist in this field but I am sharing my own experiences from my own journey and working on the frontline. There’s lots of research and literature related to loss is around bereavement.  One thing with death is that it is definite, other types of loss can be constant and many never resolve, or find an ending.

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim”. – Vicki Harrison

I remember being a young fresh-faced lad on the streets of Edinburgh. I was hard wired on hope and I had dreams of becoming a professional football player. As time went by, I started to make some bad decisions. Those decisions then led to curiosity around drugs and before I knew it, I was 22 and in a homeless hostel in Edinburgh with a drug habit. I was totally unaware of what I had lost and what loss I had experienced. I had countless deaths growing up, suicides, family members passing away and one of my best friends was brutally murdered. These events had almost become normalised and was all part and parcel of growing up (well at least I thought it was normal). I never knew if I had ‘dealt with it’. At that time I was not able to deal with the process and I couldn’t understand or identify with my feelings and emotions.

I had lost and scarred my close relationships, I had an identity based on what was wrong with me. My health was deteriorating and I felt like I had no place in society. The significant loss wasn’t just the bereavement’s, but all the other parts of my internal and external world that I had lost. Drugs are mostly a coping strategy / habit or routine. It’s all the other stuff. It’s the relationships you lose. It’s the purpose you don’t have. It’s the self-belief and human connection which you crave. The guilt shame and embarrassment that you carry, or the broken home that you left behind. Loss can become cumulative and it can feel that you are on a sinking downward spiral. It took me years of getting the right therapeutic interventions to help me overcome and unravel my past. I believe that a therapeutic intervention is essential to help people to overcome loss related issues. Imagine having no friends and going through the worst times of your life!  The focus when you are in addiction or involved in criminal activity is the substance, behaviour or activity. There’s a belief that if you stop ‘the thing’, then everything else will be OK. I’ve found it to be the other way around.

Working on the frontline I find that people of lower socio-economic status, who have experienced multiple losses, are far more reluctant to want to reintegrate back into the community. My role as a Get Connected Worker is to improve people’s recovery / social and human capital. Identifying where an individual feels in regards to their community is a great place to start. Many people are experiencing a void after giving up drugs or alcohol and I try to support to build a new life. I work to help people build new relationships, new hobbies, getting into education, or finding volunteering opportunities aimed towards getting back into employment.  Most of the people I work with are experiencing homelessness, getting clean from illicit substances, getting released from prison or ‘caught up in a repetitive cycle’. I think that more research going into loss in the broader sense (not just bereavement) in relation to people experiencing severe / multiple disadvantage could be important to help shape commissioning and outcomes.

Bereavement, loss and the grieving process is far from being straight forward. Loss is a continuum.  We are all different, but we are all the same. Feelings are personal, intrinsic and events are subjective. Coming to terms with any type of loss is difficult. My questions is do we have the resource to help people experiencing multiple disadvantage to understand and work through these issues on the frontline? I would like to see and hear what other organisations and individuals are doing to look through this scope? Where do we have things in place that equip people with the tools to deal with life’s difficulties?    

A literature review on loss and bereavement

We set out to better understand the impact and prevalence of a wider range of losses in the lives of people facing multiple disadvantage. The available literature has meant this review focuses primarily on bereavement through death and the role this experience may play in the lives of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system.