Practical information
Coping with grief and trauma

Coping with grief and trauma

If you or anyone else is in immediate danger, call emergency services on 111.

  • If you’re in danger but it’s not safe to talk, call 111, stay silent, and follow the instructions to connect to police.
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  • If you have hearing or speech difficulties, register for the New Zealand Police 111 TXT service so you can text Police, Fire or Ambulance in an emergency.
  • If English is not your primary language, Victim Support can use Connecting Now to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know which language you need. Victim Support can also try and match you with a Support Worker who speaks your primary language.
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You may qualify for financial assistance under the Victim Assistance Scheme (VAS) which helps victims of serious crime by contributing to costs related to the crime, the justice process and recovery.

For more information you can contact your Support Worker, call us directly on 0800 842 846 or visit our Financial assistance page.

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The justice system can be complicated and unfamiliar but knowing what to expect can help. We can help you understand and engage with the justice system, answer any questions you have, and be there for you if you want someone to listen.

We can support you with:

  • Rights and information. We’ll help you understand your rights, provide information, and support you to make informed choices.
  • Justice system. We’ll explain the justice system and help you navigate each step, including supporting you at key moments during court, parole hearings, coronial inquests and family group or restorative justice conferences. We can help you prepare a Victim Impact Statement or apply to be on the Victim Notification Register.
  • Linking with other agencies and support. We’ll help you liaise with police, courts and other government agencies.

You can call us or visit our How we can help page to find out more about who we are, how we can help you and how to access our support.

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If you or others have been injured, see a doctor, go to a hospital emergency department or call an ambulance on 111 regardless of whether you decide to report the incident or not.

A professional medical assessment can help your recovery and ensure physical safety.

Depending on the incident, consider having the doctor prepare a medical report that can be shared with police, if you are comfortable doing that.

After what’s happened the media may want to get comments or interview you, your family, whānau, close friends or any witnesses.  Media can sometimes feel demanding and intrusive during stressful times but it’s your decision if you want to speak to them or not and what you feel comfortable sharing.

These situations can seem very unjust and unfair and can cause both grief and trauma. There is an overlap between these two reactions but there are also some differences. Grief is a normal reaction to loss, featuring a range of responses that stem from sadness. Trauma is a normal reaction to an abnormal event, featuring a range of responses that stem from fear and anxiety.

To help them cope through what’s happened, provide a safe and supportive space for children and young people to process their thoughts in their own way and reassure them it’s not their fault.

Family, whānau and friends can suddenly be called on to help someone who is a victim, witness, or has been bereaved by a crime or a traumatic event. Your caring support can help the person feel more able to cope and begin to recover. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or say and you may be feeling stressed by their situation as well. Being there to listen and taking care of yourself along the way helps.

Any sudden death that is unexpected, violent or suspicious will be investigated by a coroner. Coroners are responsible for determining the details surrounding the death, including how, where, when, and why it occurred. This information is important in listing the cause of death on the official death certificate. It is a complex process that can vary according to the different circumstances of the death but is handled carefully and respectfully by those involved.

For many, a ceremonial blessing of the site where a person has died is an essential part of processing the loss. It acknowledges of the spiritual impact of the tragedy and protects and guides the spirit of the deceased. It respects and honours the dignity of the deceased person, their family, whānau, and community.

For Māori, it can include lifting of the tapu on the site and karakia. Other cultural and faith groups have their own unique blessing ceremonies. Some family or whānau members may choose to visit the scene and be part of a blessing ceremony and others may not. They may prefer to hold a private blessing or open it to whomever would like to come, including from the community.

If you are an immediate family or whānau member wishing to organise a blessing for the site, you could contact your kaumātua, local marae, church or faith centre, the police officer who has been working with you, a Police Iwi Liaison Officer, or speak to a Support Worker.

If you don't personally know the family or whānau but witnessed or discovered the incident, you can speak to a Support Worker if you'd like to attend a blessing, provided it is open to the public and the family or whānau are comfortable with that.

Advice and information is available from Aotearoa New Zealand embassies in the country concerned and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) can help. They can liaise with New Zealand Police and the country the person died in about the local investigation and justice process.

MFAT can let you know about:

Official processes required in the country the person died in.

Available local burial or cremation options and any requirements that must be met.

Contact details for funeral directors in that country who could manage the funeral or tangihanga.

How you can bring back the person’s body or ashes (repatriation) to Aotearoa New Zealand.

If a person’s body or their ashes are being returned to Aotearoa New Zealand

The immediate family or whānau can ask a funeral director in Aotearoa New Zealand about the options they have for arranging for their loved one's body or ashes to be repatriated (brought back to New Zealand).

Urgent travel

If you live overseas but the death of someone close to you has happened in Aotearoa New Zealand, the bereaved family or whānau are able to access some assistance here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Manaaki Tāngata | Victim Support
Call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected to a Support Worker for assistance.

The Ministry of Justice's Victims Information Centre
Find information, advice and support. Contact them here.

Support through the criminal justice system
Look in this directory to find a New Zealand lawyer

Some financial support
ACC may accept a claim for accidental death which would provide financial support to cover some costs when the death of a New Zealander has been confirmed by police as murder or manslaughter. If you're overseas contact ACC on +64 7 848 7400

Your chosen funeral director can do as little or as much as you want them to do. Talk with your funeral director about what you would like, including any cultural or religious rituals you want honoured. Ask them about costs and payment options, so you can make choices that are manageable.

A funeral director helps bereaved families and whānau in several ways, including:

collecting the person’s body from the mortuary and caring for them at their funeral home until burial or cremation

providing information about necessary legal requirements after a death

registering the death and helping families get a copy of the death certificate

explaining how you can bring back the person’s body or ashes (repatriation) to Aotearoa New Zealand.

preparing the body for viewing if the family wishes this and it is possible

fulfilling the family’s choices for the funeral, tangihanga (tangi), or memorial event

checking if the person’s legal will requested certain funeral arrangements

organising cremation or burial procedures that meet necessary requirements

helping families apply for financial assistance, if needed

If you and your immediate family or whānau prefer to organise a burial or cremation without a funeral director

The Victim Notification Register provides victims of serious crimes with notifications about what's happening to the person that offended against them as they move through the justice system. This includes their Parole Board hearings, temporary prison releases, home detention, hospital detention or prison release date.

To receive notifications and be kept informed, victims must apply to be listed on the Victim Notification Register. Victims are also able to nominate someone else as a representative to receive the notification on their behalf.

A victim can apply to be on the register at any stage after an offender has been charged.

The Police determine a victim’s eligibility to be on the Register and the Department of Corrections runs the confidential Register service.

A Victim Impact Statement is your opportunity to tell the court and the offender how the crime has personally affected you as a victim - emotionally, physically, financially, socially and psychologically, and in your daily life. This is a different statement to the one you gave to police after the crime occurred.

A Victim Impact Statement helps the court understand your views about the offending and the information you provide, if you decide to make a statement, will be considered by the judge when the offender is being sentenced.

The tragic death of someone close to us is always distressing, and when it happens unexpectedly or in some cases violently, it can be even more challenging. We might hear the news from others or have witnessed the person’s death ourselves, and the shock can leave us unsure about what we need to do.

A lot needs to happen within the first few days after a death and many people and agencies become involved. They understand how distressing this time is will support you through it respectfully and with care.

Support is here for you when things get tough. You don't have to face it alone. Reach out to these confidential and non-judgmental services to discuss your situation and get the help you need.


Free 24/7 helpline for counselling support for anyone who is stressed, needs someone to talk to, or is feeling overwhelmed.

Depression NZ

Free 24/7 depression helpline and information and resources to help individuals dealing with depression in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Family Services Directory

Directory of nationwide support providers who can help families and whānau cope with common issues and problems.

Lifeline Aotearoa

Free 24/7 helpline to support the emotional wellbeing of New Zealanders and connect people to support that helps them cope through a difficult situation.

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

Nationwide directory of GPs, mental health counsellors and services, and information for anyone in need of mental health support.

New Zealand Relay

Helps people who are deaf, hard of hearing, speech-impaired, and deafblind to connect with support services over the phone.

Skylight Trust

Counselling, resources, and a specialist support library for children, young people, and adults who are experiencing any kind of grief, loss or trauma, including after a homicide or suicide.

Talking Works NZ

A directory of professional counsellors around Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Grief Centre

Services to support children, youth, adults, families, or whānau experiencing any form of significant loss.

Grief and trauma are complex and challenging experiences that can affect everyone differently after experiencing a crime or traumatic event. Coping is the process of adapting to these experiences and finding ways to manage the difficult emotions and challenges that come with them.

Grief can come and go at any time, and it can be very difficult to deal with. But over time, most people find that their grief becomes less intense and more manageable.

The time it takes to feel safe again after a traumatic experience varies based on the severity of the trauma, with individuals who have endured ongoing abuse possibly requiring more time to heal and regain a sense of safety, with other people starting to recover in a few weeks.

Remember, you are not alone. Many people have these experiences and there is support available to help you feel safe again and get back on your feet.



Grief is a normal reaction to loss, featuring a range of responses that stem from sadness. Loss can be experienced when someone dies but it can also be experienced in response to traumatic events and crime, such as losing possessions in a burglary or fire, losing the use of a limb in an accident, or losing a sense of trust after a crime.

Grief is not just an emotional reaction – it can affect you physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. Common reactions include sadness, shock, anger, guilt, tiredness, change in appetite and/or sleep, body aches, difficulty concentrating, and asking “why?”. Grief reactions come and go, often quite unexpectedly, but generally fade over time.

If you are concerned by how you’re feeling or feel that your grief has not faded, it’s important that you talk to a GP, counsellor or therapist.



Trauma is a normal reaction to an abnormal event, featuring a range of responses that stem from fear and anxiety. It’s normal to experience trauma symptoms after experiencing or witnessing serious crime and events such as accidents, disasters and sudden death.

You may experience shock, anxiety (e.g. feeling jumpy and on edge), fear, helplessness, feeling numb or detached from your body, flashbacks or nightmares, and wanting to avoid any reminders of what happened.

It’s normal for these symptoms to pass within four weeks but they can last longer.

If you are experiencing symptoms that last longer than four weeks or if you are concerned by how you’re feeling, it’s important that you talk to a GP, counsellor or therapist.


Common reactions to crime and traumatic events

It can be hard to make sense of someone deliberately harming another person or a shocking, unexpected event occurring. It can feel like your whole world has been violated and turned upside down.

Everyone responds differently to a crime or traumatic event, but there are some common early reactions.

It’s normal to feel unsafe, fear, anxious and on edge, shock, disbelief, denial, confusion, self-blame or blaming others, guilt, shame, whakamā, anger, sadness, powerlessness and numbness.

You may feel shaky, have a tight chest, racing heart and breathlessness. This may be followed by changes in sleep and appetite, body aches, stomach upset and nausea. Existing health conditions may get worse because of the stress.

You may find yourself preoccupied and have difficulty concentrating. There may be disturbing nightmares or flashbacks, as if it were happening again. You may try to avoid reminders of what happened.

You might find you become more irritable than usual and want to be with other people more, or to be on your own more. You may also struggle to trust others. These situations can seem very unjust and unfair.


What can help

Grief is a normal process, but there can be difficult moments. Trauma can be more complex depending on if it has resulted from a single incident or repeated incidents.  Grief doesn't happen in a straight line. It's okay to have some setbacks and you may have good days and bad days.

Knowing the sorts of reactions to expect can be helpful, as well as some strategies to help you manage.

  • Be patient with yourself. Grief takes time and work through things in away that's right for you.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, get enough rest, and do some simple exercise. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you have.
  • Understand how to manage any flashbacks. Flashbacks can make you feel like you're reliving a traumatic experience in vivid detail, making it challenging to connect with the present moment and what is real. Ground yourself, take some breaths and notice where you are now.
  • Talk to someone you trust. This could be a friend, family or whānau member, therapist, or grief counsellor.
  • Find healthy ways to cope. This could include writing your thoughts down, exercising, spending time in nature, or putting into action some positive things that have worked for you before.
  • Stay connected with others. Social support is important and spending time or connecting with family, whānau, trusted loved ones or community support groups can make a big difference to how you feel.
  • Accept offers of help. Don't be afraid to ask for support from others or accept offers of practical help and support.
  • Keep your day to day structured. Keep a simple routine to help you feel in control of your day and it's a good idea to avoid making big plans or big decisions.
  • Expect some painful reminders if you've been bereaved. Emotional triggers like photos, sounds, places, or music, are a normal part of the grieving process. Connect to loved ones, cry if you need to and do the things that make you feel relaxed. Remember the person's life and the good memories you shared.

Consider seeking professional help and support if:

  • your trauma reactions are really intense, like having flashbacks, high levels of ongoing anxiety or panic attacks.
  • you're struggling to handle things most days.
  • you want to talk to someone, but you don't have anyone to talk to about what you're going through.
  • your trauma reactions aren't getting better after a few weeks, or they're getting worse and affecting your daily life.
  • you're using alcohol or drugs to cope regularly.
  • You think you might be depressed or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or of suicide.


Using your resilience

Being resilient does not mean that you, and your family or whānau won’t experience stress, trauma, or grief. It means drawing on the inner strengths, skills, attitudes, and cultural connections that can help you cope and be able to move forward. Most people find they are more resilient than they expect.

There are many things you can do to build your resilience.

Connect with others

  • Spend time with people who are supportive and good to be with.
  • Try not to isolate.
  • Reach out for help when you need it.

Believe in yourself

  • A sense of self-worth positively influences your outlook and choices.
  • Remind yourself you have value and worth.
  • Use positive self-talk.

Use your natural strengths

  • Make the most of qualities, skills or abilities that come easily to you.
  • Identify what you’re good at or ask others what they think your strengths are.

Learn helpful life skills

  • They can make things more manageable.
  • Learn from watching others, be taught, do research and give things a go.

Be as flexible as you can

  • Try to adjust and adapt to changes.
  • Sometimes we just can’t control things.
  • If you feel out of your comfort zone, find a new normal.

Think creatively

  • Try to see situations and solutions in new ways.
  • Consider all possible options and outcomes, experiment with different ways of doing things.

Use your sense of humour

  • This can help to relieve tension and put things into perspective.
  • Laughter relaxes us and helps us, and others around us, to feel more positive.

Practice perseverance

  • Don’t give up when experiencing frustrations or setbacks.
  • Keep what you’re aiming for in your mind, set small goals and prioritise rest.

Stay positive

  • Look forward with hope.
  • Hope for the best, do what you can, and believe you’ll get through this.

Look after yourself

  • Your own well-being matters.
  • Take small self-care actions every day.
  • What positive actions helped you in stressful times before? Do those things.
  • Be kind to yourself


Support services




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