Have the courage to discuss the 'd' word this National Palliative Care Week

24 May 2021

In a society where we tend to shy away from talking about death' facing the end of life is harder when people have not had those important conversations with their loved ones.

That is according to CQUniversity Positive Psychology researchers Dr Lauren Miller-Lewis and Roslyn Francis' who are using their knowledge on resilience and wellbeing factors in the field of palliative care' death and dying.

"Much of our work in this space is about bringing the end of life out of the shadows and more into people's conscious awareness so that the community can become more accepting and prepared for death' and more open to the support that palliative care can offer people at this important point of the life journey that we all go through'"

Dr Miller-Lewis said.

"Reducing existential fear of the 'd' word and getting people to talk death can help take away a lot of that guesswork and distress when the time comes - it not only provides comfort for the person who is dying' because they know their family are aware of their wishes' but it also can help the families who are left behind to deal with their grief.

"Creating communities that are more willing and able to discuss death can also enhance the support that we can wrap around each other when we're grieving."

To assist with these discussions Dr Miller-Lewis and Ms Francis contributed to running a free online course called Dying2Learn as a part of a positive public health palliative care strategy.

The course is hosted by the Research Centre for Palliative Care Death' Dying (RePaDD) and CareSearch' Australia's Palliative Care Knowledge Network. CareSearch provides information and support to health professionals providing palliative care and people in need of palliative care.

"We became interested in understanding what role positive psychology concepts such as meaning-in-life might play in influencing the way people adapt to and cope with death and dying' as individuals' families' and communities'"

she said.

"As part of this course' we use positive psychology approaches to get people thinking about how we engage with death while we still live.

"We challenge people to think about what they want to achieve in their lifetime' mindfully contemplate their most meaningful life' whether they're living their life in line with their values' and what sort of legacy they hope to leave behind."

During her Master of Applied Positive Psychology' CQU graduate Roslyn Francis found that meaning in life and our ability to cope with death is indivisibly related.

"With data sourced from the Dying2Learn course' I found that meaning in life' our values and our social connections all contribute to how we cope with death.

"As purposeful meaning in life is experienced' the ideas of life and death appear to take on an empowered position where death is more easily managed'"

Ms Francis explained.

"It was interesting to see that as the presence of meaning in life increased' so did value in living and social support.

"The idea is that this focus on meaning in life can help people cope better with death. This will hopefully lead to a more death-competent and psychologically flourishing community."

Both Dr Miller-Lewis and Ms Francis agreed that supporting patients' families and healthcare professionals through palliative care has made a lasting impact on their own lives.

"We often receive emails from people who completed the course with us. They tell us that what they learned helped them down the track when they've had to deal with death face-to-face - whether that be caring for a loved one in the final phase of life' or facing a life-threatening diagnosis themselves'"

Dr Miller- Lewis explained.

"Knowing we've been able to help people during such vulnerable times is both humbling and fulfilling - for people who work in the palliative care and end-of-life space' the expression that comes up a lot is 'it's a privilege'.

"Death is a natural part of life that we all go through. Helping people and their families cope with this last phase of life is a very meaningful profession."

The CareSearch Portal is introducing a new Dying2Learn Hub to be released in August 2021. To find out more visit: www.caresearch.com.au/Dying2Learn