The rise of the grief economy in the digital age

In the wake of personal loss, individuals turn to digital platforms for comfort and support, creating an intriguing new economic loss.

„When I lost him, I was miserable. It was almost an understatement to say that the feeling was so intense and so helpless,” said Tanushka Dutta, a journalist with a leading media house in New Delhi who lost her grandfather eight months ago. Not wanting to burden her family, she suppressed her grief. Not many people could understand what she was going through. Even her friends, who she expected to be with her, could not understand the intensity of her emotions.

She considered grief counseling, but it was too expensive. That’s when Danushka discovered groups like bereavement support groups and grief support groups on Facebook. The personal stories of others in these spaces somehow validated her grief.

„It was a miserable feeling that I didn’t face alone, and there was a strange comfort in knowing that unknown strangers on this planet were going through it,” he said. Leading. After some time, she mustered up the courage to write about her feelings, and many strangers offered their support in the comment section with simple phrases like „it’s going to be okay.” She recalls that one of the pages that helped her the most was Untangle Grief on Instagram.

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Dhanushka is one of thousands of people in India and abroad who live in what sociologists call the grief economy, which includes services and products for the bereaved. The grief economy, especially its digital side, received a boost during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting many to seek help to cope with their losses. Also, there is a concerted effort to understand the socio-economic impact of grief around the world.

A growing market

For example, estimates from the Grief Recovery Institute, a US-based research group, show that grief costs the economy $75 billion in lost productivity each year. In addition to offline services that include clinics and other support groups, hundreds of pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit and other platforms now offer ways to cope with grief in the form of flash cards with impactful quotes and short videos. Carrying advice and experiences, memes and more. In India, the market, though in its nascent stage, is finding buyers of late due to awareness about mental health and the rise of social media platforms.

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With thousands of readers, listeners, subscribers and followers, the market for grief-related products and services continues to grow. A grief economy aims to create and monetize a support system that transcends time and geography. Offering accessibility, privacy, and affordable subscriptions, it serves as a precursor to therapy or, in some cases, a satisfactory substitute for counseling.

In the 21 days of October 2023, Amazon has released more than 36 books (both paperback and Kindle editions) in its “Grief and Grief” and “Self-Help” categories. Popular music player platform Spotify offers more than 100 podcasts related to grief, such as The Good Morning Podcast, GriefCast, Shapes of Grief, The Good Grief Podcast, What Now, and The Grief Awakening. The Google Play Store offers more than 20 apps to help people through their grief journey. Additionally, there are more than 50 pages on Instagram dedicated to discussing and expressing grief, such as Option B, Grief to Light, and Grief Case.

Sally Douglas and Imogen Korn, authors of the book Good obituaries: Honest conversations about grief and lossThrough their podcast and other content, they have fostered an online community, aiming to help people understand grief and alleviate feelings of isolation among those who are grieving.

The creators of these shows, handles, and pages, many of whom are grieving themselves, share self-care guidance, step-by-step guides, grief-coping podcasts, and experiences to reach out to people. For example, the Good Morning podcast, hosted by Sally Douglas and Imogen Corn, opens with a poignant line: „Unfortunately, we’ve joined a club that no one likes.” Sally Douglas and Imogen Korn, authors of the book Good obituaries: Honest conversations about grief and loss, have fostered an online community through their podcast and other content, aiming to help people understand grief and alleviate feelings of isolation among those who are grieving. Having lost their mothers unexpectedly in their early 30s, Sally and Imogen struggled to find adequate grief support. Their products—podcasts, bestsellers, and live events—aim to create a space to discuss the realities of loss.

Dispelling false thoughts

In recent years, as therapy has dispelled the misconceptions associated with it, products designed to help people cope with grief have gained acceptance and popularity. Emily Cummins, founder and CEO of Untangle Grief (a Bereavement and Grief Support website and mobile application), launched her products with the aim of helping more people reach out and navigate their grief. One of the many grief support apps available on the Google Play Store, Untangle Grief has over 35,000 users from around 148 countries. Curated by psychologists, nutritionists, fitness experts and content creators, the app provides a place for users to share their experiences or connect with others who have gone through similar situations.

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Cummins emphasized the importance of providing spaces for understanding and expressing grief, “Sometimes it can be difficult to discuss grief within one’s own family. Popular among users in India, Untangle Grief provides a non-judgmental space for them to talk about their feelings. It lets them know they are not alone.

Conservative estimates put the global market for grief-related products and services at more than $16 billion now and are expected to reach about $30 billion by the end of this decade. However, as with any product that deals with abstract concepts, it raises a number of concerns. Do these products really help individuals deal with grief, and are they enough? How far can these products help the bereaved, and why are they becoming a preferred option over professional counseling? „Many such apps and pages seem to support techniques recommended by psychologists for people dealing with grief. These include activities such as doodling, talking and self-expression,” said Priya Dandapani, a counseling psychologist and PhD scholar in Chennai.

However, experts emphasize the need for proper treatment. Rakhi Sengupta, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma and grief, says grief is not an isolated emotion; It involves a range of emotions. „As grief therapists, our work involves addressing every emotion associated with it, such as sadness, anger and denial,” she explained. He also noted that how a person navigates their grief is influenced by individual factors such as childhood experiences, past traumas, and their developmental environment.

Counseling and treatment are ongoing processes, experts say. Grief therapists help the bereaved to explore their trauma, understand their loss, and come to terms with it at their own pace and in their own time. During the first six months after losing a loved one, known as the acknowledgment period, individuals must come to terms with their grief and come to terms with their loss.

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Coping mechanism

According to Rocky Sengupta, products like podcasts and apps serve as coping mechanisms for those who are grieving in the first six months by assuring them that they are not alone. “Grief manifests in body and mind. In a sense, these products are laudable because they help individuals cope with grief. However, because they lack a personalized understanding of what each person is experiencing, they are insufficient in unpacking every emotion.

He added, “After the confession period, the bereaved has to process things. Neither podcasts nor apps can offer much help beyond the first six months. At that point, the individual should work through their grief with a grief counselor or therapist.

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Creators have to consider many factors, the most important of which is “connectivity,” says Priya Dhandapani. „There is a gap between digitizing services and addressing the psychological elements attached to them. Hence, creators need to explore the 'connectivity’ factor more. Consumers of such services should be aware of their data privacy rights, experts caution, and companies and creators involved in such activities must comply with data privacy laws.” and respect and adhere to ethics.

Soumali Bardhan, a Kolkata-based clinical psychologist, suggested that digital spaces carefully handle the psychological aspect by providing contact information for psychologists or counselors to guide the bereaved on their journey. Many apps try to do just that. Emily Cummins of Untangle Grief said they „want to integrate their services with the NHS in England, but we are establishing ourselves”.

Such support is seen as expensive or prohibitive, at least in countries like India, where available aid is accommodated. There is some level of satisfaction with the offerings of these digital platforms. While their monetization is a decision made independently by the creators, some of these products help users at least deal with grief. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to grief, there is always something that can be done about it. As Dhanushka did, these products provide a starting point for people to overcome their grief.

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