Grief and Mental Health
Grief affects people in various different ways, there is no set way to grieve. Sadly, we will all experience this feeling at some point in our lives, likely more than once. I have experienced loss, I have attended five funerals in my life, up to today, and each grieving process was different. So do not worry if you are grieving in a different way than you have done previously or compared to others around you as that is completely normal.
How grief affects you will depend on a number of things such as, how close you were to the person that you have lost, your upbringing, your age, your beliefs or religion and your physical and/or mental health. As well as there being no set way to grieve, there’s also no set time for the grieving process. Some people may need more time than others when it comes to recovering from grief, some people may need the help of their friends and family to pull them through, some may need more professional help from their GP or a counsellor and that is okay.
It is important to know when to ask for help.
If you are experiencing any of the following, for an extended period of time, please speak to your GP, they will be able to give you advice and guidance in regards to your situation as well as pointing you towards further help if necessary.
- Finding your emotions too overwhelming to cope with.
- If your intense emotions are not subsiding.
- Finding your day to day life difficult to cope with, such as not being able to get out of bed, get dressed, do the school run or go to work.
- If you are having trouble sleeping.
- If you feel you might have depression and/or anxiety (or any other mental health conditions).
- If your relationships are suffering.
- If you are having sexual problems.
- You are becoming accident prone.
- Or if you are caring for someone who may not be coping well.
It is important not to shut your emotions out. There is no need to feel guilty for having feelings. You do not have to stay strong all of the time; it is healthy to grieve.
According to Kessler and Ross, two psychologists, there are 5 main stages of grief.
- Denial – This stage may actually help you with the survival of loss. When you experience denial, you may feel as though the world is meaningless and that life makes no sense. Denial and shock can help to pace the grieving process by letting your thoughts and feelings in one piece at a time. During denial, you may ask yourself questions such as ‘how can I go on without them?’ or ‘Why should I get to go on?’… Denial is natures way of only letting in as much as we can handle. Eventually, after unknowingly making you stronger, the denial begins to fade and the feelings that you have been pushing aside slowly begin to surface.
- Anger – This is a necessary emotion to feel during the grieving process. Anger is an emotion that we are most used to managing. When grieving, anger is almost inevitable. You may feel angry towards the person that you have lost, especially if they lost their life to suicide. This is okay, this is natural. You may feel angry towards yourself for not being able to do more for that person while they were still here, you may feel angry towards doctors and/or hospitals for not saving their life or being able to treat them. You may find yourself asking questions such as ‘how is this fair?’, ‘why them?’, ‘where is God in all of this?’ and so on and so forth. Let your anger in, allow yourself to feel angry. This feeling will pass in time and other feelings will start to emerge.
- Bargaining – Before a loss, you might find yourself bargaining with God (despite whether you are a religious person or not). You think or say things such as ‘I promise to take more care of my partner, just please let them live’, or ‘If I change my ways, maybe I will wake up and this will all have been a dream’, or ‘they do not deserve this, take me instead.’ You find yourself asking lots of ‘what if’ questions, wondering what things would have been like if you had done things differently.
- Depression – Empty feelings start to present themselves and the grief hits us on a much deeper level. It is important to know that the depression you feel after losing a loved one does not necessarily indicate a mental illness. Feeling upset and down after experiencing loss is very normal. A lot of people seem to think that feeling depressed in a situation like this is abnormal and therefore try to hide their feelings, however, losing a loved one is a depressing time and therefore feeling depressed is an appropriate response to the situation. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is a necessary step along the way.
- Acceptance – This does not mean that you suddenly become okay with what has happened. It means that you have come to accept and understand that, yes, what happened was depressing and may have come as a shock to you and others around you, but you accept that they are no longer with you, that there was nothing more that you could have done and that things happen for a reason, even if we may never know what those reasons might have been. Though we may never be okay with this, we learn to accept it and we learn to live with it. This does not mean that we forget about our loved one, or that we stop thinking about them.
These 5 stages of grief may not occur in the order in which they are presented. Though the majority of people do tend to experience these 5 stages throughout bereavement, it does not mean that if you do not experience one or more of these stages, that you are not grieving ‘properly’. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
You may experience a range of different emotions, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Feeling as though you are the only person in the world who feels the way that you do.
- Feeling numb and finding it hard to express your emotions.
- Being unable to cry, or being unable to stop crying; with the smallest things making you teary.
- You may feel guilty and/or responsible in some way.
- May feel as though you have to step up and fill in some form of empty space within your family.
- Angry for various reasons, with various people.
- Finding it hard to talk to your friends and/or your family about the loss you have experienced, especially if they do not understand what you are going through.
- Panic, not being able to sleep, concentrate or make decisions.
- Loss of appetite and interest in usual activities.
I asked people to share their own personal experiences of grief with me for this article, to help show others that grieving is normal and that they are not the only people to go through loss:
‘I find that I struggle to process and deal with any kind of bereavement if I’m already in a bad place mentally. Last year someone who had a huge impact on my life, sadly passed away. Unfortunately she was very ill and despite everyone’s best efforts, nothing more could be done. I remember how I felt when I found out she’d gone. I was an absolute mess. Because I was quite poorly myself, I couldn’t help feeling an element of guilt. Why did she have to die and yet I’m still here? How is this fair? Due to the nature of mental illness and how bad it can get, there were many times when I was angry and confused that this wonderful and amazing person had been taken from her loved ones far far too soon. I just couldn’t understand why when we both quite poorly, that I was still alive. I’d like to say I was living life but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. At the time of her death and funeral, I was merely surviving. Still a shadow of what I could potentially be. A year on and I still think of her often. I don’t think I’ll ever stop to tell the truth. But what’s happened has happened and it cannot be changed or willed to be different however much we might think we want it to be. I am still here and I have to try and keep fighting. Fight for survival and hopefully a life I can finally, one day, be proud of. For my loved ones, for my health team, for myself and also for her. I must keep going and be the best person I can be in her memory.’
An Anonymous Writer said:
‘I felt numb after the loss of my Grandfather. I was young but grew up close to my grandparents. This was the first loss that I experienced and I didn’t quite know how I was supposed to act in a situation like that. Was there a certain way to act? No, of course not. But as a child, I did not know that. My initial thoughts were that life is unfair and cruel. Then I started to resent doctors and hospitals, believing that if they had done their job properly, my grandfather would still be here. I hated the fact that I never got to say goodbye, or tell him that I loved him… part of me felt as if he didn’t know this already, and I was incredibly hurt by that. I remember having flashback nightmares of the day that he passed away. Making me scared to sleep because I did not want to relive that moment over and over again. It took me quite some time to come to terms with the loss. Though I still think that life can be cruel, though I still hate the fact that he is gone, I have learned to live my life again. I now just hope that what I do in my life makes him as proud of me today as he was when I was young.’
I want to say a huge thank you to those who shared their experiences with me and allowed me to publish them here on the blog. I know how difficult it can be to talk about loss, no matter how long it has been since they passed.