Grief is a process that people go through after the loss of someone, important to them. Grief is a normal reaction to these events, and is not seen as a mental disorder. Most people manage to go through the grieving process with the help of family and friends.
There isn’t a “right or wrong” way to grieve. It is determined by our cultural background, our relationship to the person we’ve lost, the social support available to us, as well as to our individual characteristics.
Myths about grief
Myth 1: We grieve in stages
The theory of the five stages of grief is not as accepted now as it originally was. The idea that a grieving person goes through stages of feeling numbness, anger, bargaining, sadness and finally acceptance, are considered too rigid for the complex and multifaceted process that grief is.
Myth 2: Severing bonds is necessary
The concept that successful grieving involves severing the bonds with the deceased loved one in order to engage in life again, is not looked upon favourably. In the contrary, the concept of continuing bonds is more accepted, as we carry memories of the one we’ve lost.
Myth 3: Women grieve harder
Men and women express grief differently. Women are more likely to meet with family members and friends during this process, while men are more likely to isolate themselves.
Fact is that men grieve as deeply as women.
Myth 4: It will never end
The pain after losing someone will eventually end or it will become more bearable. This doesn’t mean that you will forget the person. In fact, continuing bonds with them is part of the recovery.
How can I help myself?
- ask for help, understanding and support from family, friends or a support group
- tell people what you find helpful and what not
- focus on the things you can control and avoid making major decisions
- if you are religious, talk to the appointed person in your church, mosque, temple
- take care of your health – try to eat, drink water and get some rest
- be patient with yourself
- try to do some gently exercise
- find ways to express emotions
Unhealthy signs of grief
In some circumstances a minority of people will become clinically depressed and unable to function. Intense and prolonged feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are signs of depression.
Grief and major depression may co-exist side by side. Modern mental health professionals are not the first to recognise that there is difference between normal grief and clinical depression6.
If you think you may be depressed it is important to seek help from your doctor or a professional counsellor. If you are having thoughts of suicide, it is essential to contact your doctor or your local mental health team.
Where a death is unnatural or violent, post-traumatic stress may develop and in other cases complicated grief may arise. The most common of these is chronic grief, where any reminder of the loss produces fresh waves of acute distress for a long time after the actual loss occurred.
People appear to be almost unaffected by the loss. In these circumstances it may be helpful to talk to a counsellor.
How can I help a family member or a friend with their grief?
While each individual deals with grief in a unique way, people will generally go through the stages of grief. However, it is important to remember that the process will be different for everyone and is never orderly.
Grief may also return and be particularly painful around anniversaries, birthdays, and family celebrations, when the person’s absence is all the more obvious.
The following suggestions may help you feel more confident about the support you offer:
It is never helpful to give the person a message that says “chin up”. According to research, unresolved grief can lead to outbursts of anger and rage, restlessness, depression, addiction, compulsion, anxiety and panic disorders. Physical symptoms can include worsening or developing diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, asthma, allergies, constipation, diarrhoea and ulcers.
Although you might not know how to be supportive, the important first step is to acknowledge the person’s loss.
If you don’t have the words a hug can speak volumes. Accept the person’s grief and offer your supportive presence. Don’t be afraid to talk about the deceased person and share any memories you may have of them.
Some people who are grieving may exhibit behaviours that affect their relationships and everyday activities, such as:
- isolating themselves but on the other hand not wanting to be alone
- resentment that others aren’t grieving
- being critical or irritable in ways that are out of character
It is important to understand and make allowances for these behaviours.
Sensing the presence of a loved one
It is common to ‘hear’ the voice of the deceased person or to ‘see’ or ‘feel’ their presence.
Approaches that often are unhelpful
- Avoiding the person
- Saying things like ‘it’s God’s will’, ‘it’s all for the best’, or if a baby has died, ‘you have other children’ or ‘you can always have another baby’. Comments like this discourage the grieving person from expressing their feelings.
- Forgetting them after the funeral. This is often the time when many supports start to drift away and the real sadness begins to set in.
- Expecting them ‘to get over it.’ Some losses we learn to live with but we don’t ‘get over.’
- Konigsberg, R. (2011). New Ways to Think About Grief. in Time Magazine. Retrieved on 1 December 2015 from http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2042372,00.html
- Kubler-Ross, E. (2003). On Death and Dying. Scribner:NY
- Hall, C. (2011). Beyond Kubler-Ross: recent developments in our understanding of grief and bereavement. Australian Psychological Society. Retrieved on 20 November 2015 from australian psychologial society: beyond kubler-ross
- Klass, D., Silverman, P. & Nickman, S. (ed). (1996). Continuing Bonds: New Understanding of Grief. Routledge: NY
- Pies, R. (2013). How the DSM 5 Got Grief, Bereavement Right, in Psychcentral.com. Retreived on 20 November 2015 from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/05/31/how-the-dsm-5-got-grief-bereavement-right/
- Pies, R. The anatomy of sorrow: a spiritual, phenomenological, and neurological perspective. in Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine. 2008, 3:17. Retrieved on 20 November 2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2442112/
Where do I go for help?
The WayAhead Directory is an online resource providing a comprehensive list of mental health related services in NSW.
Mental Health Information Line
1300 794 991
Anxiety Disorders Information Line
1300 794 992
Your local doctor (GP)
Translating & Interpreting Service
(TIS) 131 450
Please call the Mental Health Information Line through the Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS). Free to Australian citizens or permanent residents.
This information is for educational purposes. As neither brochures nor websites can diagnose people it is always important to obtain professional advice and/or help when needed.
This information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to WayAhead – Mental Health Association.
The Association encourages feedback and welcomes comments about the information provided.