Grief and Mental Health

Grief can occur in various circumstances, whether it be grieving the breakdown of a relationship, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Grief is not the same for every individual; it is important to remember that we are all unique and therefore the way in which we grieve will also be unique to us.

There a typically five stages of grief that people go through:

  1. Denial – When faced with this stage of grief, you may feel as though life makes no sense and everything may start to feel meaningless and/or overwhelming. Denial is often referred to as a survival strategy as when we are in denial, we are only letting in as much as we can handle. Then as time passes by, we slowly start to accept the loss and allow ourselves to feel the emotions that we have been pushing aside.
  2. Anger – Anger is the emotion that we are most used to dealing with. When we experience a loss we often become angry at a lot of things, whether it be towards the doctors who cared for your loved one, whether it be yourself for wishing that you had done more or whether is be towards the person who you have lost.
  3. Bargaining – when we are in this stage of grief we tend to ask a lot of ‘what if’ questions and may question the existence of a God. We may think/say things such as ‘if I had done this differently would they still be here?’, ‘why them, why not me?’ And so on and so forth.
  4. Depression – in this stage we may show symptoms of depression, losing lack of interest and motivation towards things we would usually enjoy, feeling down, hopeless, worthless, feeling as though life has no meaning. We may also struggle with sleeping and concentrating. Some may experience suicidal thoughts, usually along the lines of ‘wanting to be with our loved ones again’.
  5. Acceptance – the slow realisation that they are gone, there is nothing that we could have done to change this, and it is time to accept it and try and continue with our lives without them. This does not, in any way, mean that we forget about them and ‘move on’, it simply means understanding and accepting that they are no longer here.

It is important to remember that people may experience these stages in various orders and may react to them in different ways. Some people may grieve for a couple of days, some may grieve for a couple of weeks… there is no time limit on grief.

However, 10-20% of people grieving the loss of a loved one experiences ‘Complicated Grief Disorder’, this is when the individual struggles greatly to move past their grief, getting themselves stuck within the grieving stages and it becoming unhealthy grief. This can go on for a matter of months. Although this disorder has not been formally recognised as a mental health disorder, it has been mentioned in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) as a disorder that needs more study and research.

There is help available for people who are struggling with grief, such as counselling, support groups, online forums, help lines and so on.

Another important thing to remember is that children also experience grief. When a close friend or family member passes away it is important to talk to the children of the family about the loss, ask them how they feel, allow them to ask questions and answer them to the best that you can.

Research shows that having pets in a household is a good way to teach children about death and loss as losing a pet if often their first experience of death. Many people do not realise how big of an impact a pet can have on an individual. They become part of the family, especially for children. It can be very heartbreaking to lose a pet and people do grieve for their pets. This is a normal and expected reaction to have.

Again it is important to remember that grief is common, it affects all of us at some point in our lives, we are all unique individuals and will experience grief in various ways, but we are not alone and help is always out there.

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