Confronting new insights commissioned by national not-for-profit organisation the Violet Initiative and innovative research company The Evolved Group reveal that 95% of Australians experienced the death of a significant other in the last two years, and over half have had a close experience with death themselves. This is far higher than previously thought and confirms long-held beliefs that, as a society, we underestimate the ubiquity and impact of death and dying in our lives.
This revelation only comes to light when people drop their guard about the topic and talk openly with a non-judgemental conversational AI bot called EVE, a tool developed by The Evolved Group, underpinning the Violet Initiative’s research report entitled Private Thoughts – End of Life, which explores experiences on death and dying.
Furthermore, the universal experience of death leads to extended time off work, widespread mental distress, depression and anxiety. For which 3.1m Australians every year fail to seek professional support or guidance.
This same avoidant attitude and a refusal to accept, talk about or plan for death properly, already costs our health and economic system well over $1BN per year. Our nation’s rapidly aging population, where deaths will double in the next 15 years, suggests our government is sleepwalking into the macro social and economic crisis of this century.
Lost productivity in the workplace caused by complex grief and regretful experiences; extended delays in the resolution of deceased estates or processing insurance claims; workforce burnout in the aged care industry; unplanned, unwanted and unnecessary hospital presentations and non-beneficial treatments, are just some of the more tangible effects of this badly managed life stage. Without greater recognition, education and investment in community support services, these burdens will only increase.
“Death may be as old as humanity, but unfortunately that final farewell often creates regretful outcomes for those left behind. The cost of doing nothing is simply too high,” says Kate Carnell AO, Chair of The Violet Initiative, a national not-for-profit organisation that provides information, resources and support to help people navigate the last stage of life and grief.
The research found that death and dying are triggers for multiple negative emotional, physical and financial outcomes but that the impact on our wellbeing can be reduced through preparation, planning and increased support options.
Respondents who deal with death in their professional life are particularly affected and unsupported. Two in five people (41%) exposed to death and dying in their profession indicated it impacted their professional life and wellbeing, yet only 16% had sought professional help, information or support. More than a third (35%) took time off work and 29% admitted they considered changing occupations – particularly concerning as these are the people helping others.
Ms Carnell said it was clear this national issue was not getting the focus required and it was time for both Federal and State Governments to overhaul the current inadequate arrangements and shine a light on:
- Death, bereavement and the effects of death on us as Australians
- Frail and elderly people in the last 12 months of life, and
- How we might introduce improved responses for these people, their families and caregivers
According to CEO of the Violet Initiative, Melissa Reader, the impact of a personal experience with death is varied but often profound – particularly for our mental health – yet few people are seeking support or talking to significant others. “Our study uncovered that emerging technologies are a groundbreaking way to get to the heart of problems, with our respondents engaging in emotionally intelligent and open conversations with AI. It suggests there’s a better way to support Australians and prepare them for death – our study proves Australians are not well served by the support options currently available.”
Ms Reader says this research needs to be considered in the context of the recent Intergenerational Report 2023 – Australia’s future to 2063, released by the Federal Government in August.
To quote from the report: “Powerful forces will continue to shape Australia’s economy over the coming decades including population ageing, expanded use of digital and data technology, climate change and the net zero transformation, rising demand for care and support services, and increased geopolitical risk and fragmentation. These forces will influence the future path and structure of our economy and change how Australians live, work, and engage with the world.”
“Our research provides the starting point for Governments to introduce change that has a positive impact to ensure we have a model that has the best possible outcomes for all Australians. Previous research conducted by the Grattan Institute shows that one in two people die in hospital, but at the same time 70% want to die at home – pointing to the need for a model that considers the care people want and where they want to receive it. The human cost of this problem is broadly unquantified – but significant, and growing. State Governments are facing a current crisis in our public hospital systems, related to the increasing number of frail people in the last weeks and days of their life,” Ms Reader said.
“This is never going to be easy, but we have to do better.”