HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

 Section V - Mental Health Topics

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Grief/Bereavement

Grief is a deep sadness or sorrow that results from a loss. The loss can be from something big or small. It can be from something positive or negative. Examples of things that cause grief include changes in:
bullet A job (new or lost job, a promotion or demotion, or retirement)
bullet Relationships (splitting up, getting divorced or having a child leave home)
bullet Health problems (illness or injury)
bullet Life matters (death of a family member or friend, loss of property or moving to a new place)

There are many factors that shape our response to a loss such as death. These include:

bullet Age
bullet Health
bullet How sudden the loss was
bullet Cultural background
bullet Religious beliefs
bullet Financial security
bullet Social network
bullet History of other losses or traumatic events

Each of these factors can add to or reduce the pain of grieving. Trying to deny or avoid grief only seems to create more serious problems later. To come through the process in a healthy way, it is best to understand what coping with loss is all about.

Bereavement is a process of grieving most often linked to the death of a loved one.

Stages of Grief

Before a griever can feel “whole” or healed, they generally go through four stages:

  1. Shock. The person feels dazed or numb.
     
  2. Denial and Searching. The person:
  • Is in a state of disbelief
  • Asks questions, such as “Why did this happen?,” “Why didn’t I prevent this?”
  • Looks for ways to keep their loved one or loss with them
  • Thinks he or she sees or hears the deceased person
  • Just begins to feel the reality of the event
  1. Suffering and Disorganization. The person:
  •      Has feelings, such as guilt, depression, anxiety, loneliness, fear, hostility
  •      May place blame on everyone and everything, including themself
  •      May get physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, constant fatigue, shortness of breath
  •      Withdraws from routine and social contacts
  1. Recovery and Acceptance. The person:
  • Begins to look at the future instead of focusing on the past
  • Adjusts to the reality of the loss
  • Develops new relationships
  • Develops a positive attitude

The normal period of grieving the loss of a loved one lasts from one to three years, but could take longer.

Questions to Ask

Have you just attempted suicide, are you making plans for suicide, or do you have repeated thoughts of suicide or death?

Yes. Get Emergency Care.

No

 
Are you abusing medication and/or alcohol to make yourself feel better? Do you need these to cope or “numb” your pain?
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

No

 

Do you have one or more of these problems due to grief?

  • Extreme stress on your marriage and/or your children
  • Not able to cope day to day
  • Ongoing problems with insomnia, excessive crying, depression, feelings of guilt, or eating too much or too little food
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

No

 
Have you refused to sort through the deceased’s belongings after a significant time?
Yes. See Counselor.

No

 

 

Self-Help

bullet Maintain good health habits (e.g., eat well, get regular exercise, etc.).
bullet Allow friends and family to assist you. Tell them how you really feel. Visit them, especially during the holidays, if you would otherwise be alone. Traveling during the holidays may also be helpful.
bullet Try not to make major life changes, such as moving during the first year of grieving.
bullet Share and maintain memories of a lost loved one. It is important to reminisce. Being reminded of the past can be essential to the process of coming to grips with a loss. Don’t hold your feelings inside.
bullet Join a support group for the bereaved if someone close to you has died. People and places to contact include your EAP representative, your student counseling center, churches or synagogues, funeral homes, and hospice centers.
bullet Contact local mental health centers. (Also see “National Resources”.)
bullet Adopt a pet
bullet Use bibliotherapy - read self-help books about grief and death
Get regular physical exercise, such as walking.

What You Can Do for a Friend or Relative

bullet Be supportive.
bullet Be a good listener. Encourage the mourner to talk. They need to “vent” their feelings about their loss. Listen without judging.
bullet Allow them to mourn. Mourning is a necessary process. Do not expect the mourner to bounce back to their old self right away.
bullet Be compassionate. Some things to say include:
  • “How are you doing?”
  • “Do you want to talk? If not, that’s okay. If and when you want to talk, please let me know.”
  • “I’m sorry about your loss. What can I do to help?”
  • “I don’t know what to say.”
  • “I care about you. What can I do to help you?”
bullet Also, actions can speak louder than words. The sense of touch can be very soothing during grief and bereavement. Put your arm around the person who is grieving. Hold their hand. Touch their shoulder or arm.
bullet Call your friend or relative and/or send them a “thinking about you” greeting card at times when they are more apt to miss the deceased person, such as during holidays or the anniversary date of the person’s:
  • Death
  • Birthday
  • Wedding anniversary
Offer a helping hand to someone who is grieving.

Copyright 2004, 5th Edition, American Institute for Preventive Medicine. All rights reserved.

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March 16, 2007