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In any given year in Australia there are approximately 150,000 deaths, 1 in every 5 women who experience a miscarriage, 1 stillborn child per 135 successful births, 1 in every 20 children who experience the death of a parent, 147,000 marriages that result in divorce, and 130,000 people that are diagnosed with cancer (Australian Bureau of Statistics). These statistics are just a snapshot of the some of the difficulties Australians may endure within their lifetime, with there being multiple other unfortunate situations a person could experience. If you are subject to a misfortunate event similar to the above, you are most likely suffering from grief and loss. The good news is – you can be helped!

What is grief? What causes it?

Grief is commonly recognised as the distress, sadness and anger displayed following the death of person’s close family member or friend. However, it is possible for a person to grieve when they lose anything of importance to them. This may include the following:

  • Divorce or relationship breakdown
  • Loss of previously good health (i.e. illness diagnosis)
  • A loved one being diagnosed with a serious illness.
  • Loss of a job or financial stability
  • Experience of a miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Retirement
  • Selling a family home
  • Loss of a friendship
  • A child moving out of home
  • Loss of a body part
  • Death of a pet

Is grief normal?

After experiencing a loss, grief is considered to be a completely normal human emotion; with research suggesting that the general grief reaction (i.e. sadness, distress, and aggression) is a universal phenomenon.

However there is some variation between cultures, namely due to differing beliefs and superstitions. For example indigenous North Americans limit mourning to four days, afraid that if mourning continues, they will be haunted by the deceased’s spirit. In addition to this, there is extensive research demonstrating social animals to grieve after losing a companion.  For example dolphins have been witnessed carrying their mate’s carcass for a number of days after its death, and also to refuse food.

What are the symptoms of grief?

Although grief can be recognised as a universal phenomenon, not everyone grieves in the same way, even within the same culture. People will often experience differing symptoms, and will adapt to or approach their losses in varying ways. In support of this, research has shown the “normal” symptoms of grief to be very extensive. Therefore, in order to simplify them, they can be separated in the following four categories – feelings, physical sensations, cognitions and behaviours.

Feeling Physical Sensations Cognitions Behaviours
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue
  • Helplessness
  • Shock
  • Yearning
  • Emancipation
  • Relief
  • Numbness
  • Hollow stomach
  • Tight chest
  • Tight throat
  • Breathlessness
  • Depersonalisation
  • Weak muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of energy
  • Oversensitive to noise
  • Disbelief over death
  • Confusion
  • Preoccupation with the loss
  • Sensing presence of the deceased
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleep problems
  • Appetite disturbances
  • Forgetfulness
  • Social Isolation
  • Dreams or nightmares of the loss
  • Avoiding reminders of the loss
  • Searching or calling out for the deceased
  • Sighing
  • Hyperactivity
  • Crying
  • Treasuring objects of the deceased

 

Why do some people grieve worse than others?

People suffering a loss can be separated into three groups. The first group adapt well to their loss and are known as “resilient”. The second group can be described as “making-do”, neither coping extremely well or extremely badly with the loss. The third group have trouble adapting and bringing grief to a satisfactory conclusion. This may disrupt their daily functioning, making them in need of professional help. Sometimes these people are referred to as suffering from ‘complicated grief’, ‘prolonged grief’, ‘exaggerated grief’, ‘pathological grief’, or ‘chronic grief’. A number of factors may influence the severity of grief experienced by a person. For example, the relationship to the person who passed, if the survivor was dependent on the deceased, how the person passed away, the survivor’s mental health, whether the loss was preventable, and many more.

How to distinguish grief from depression?

It can be hard to differentiate grief from depression. This is because, not only do they share a lot of the same symptoms, grief can actually develop into depression or ‘complicated grief’ for various reasons. It is important to know that they are considered to be different conditions. If you are unsure about whether you a suffering from grief or depression, read the following list for clarification:

Grief & Depression
Similarities Differences
  • Grief and depression share symptoms such as sadness, insomnia, and appetite disturbances, however…
  • Both may involve feelings of guilt, however….
  • Both depressed and grieving individuals may suffer from lowered self-esteem or self worth, however
  • Both grief and depression are associated with hopeless and powerless feelings, however…
  • …Unlike the grieving person, the depressed person will consider feelings of sadness/low mood to be normal.
  • …A person suffering from grief will feel guilt in relation to their loss, whereas a depressed person will experience guilt more generally and intensely.
  • …It is much more common and severe in depressed individuals, and if experienced by a grieving individual, it is only temporary.
  • …Grieving individuals experience these feelings specific to their loss, whereas depressed people experience these feelings about the world in general and also have suicidal thoughts. Depressed people have difficulty with basic day-to-day functioning, such as work, home and school. Grieving is associated with an influx of happy and sad memories/feelings, whereas in depression, negative emotions are fairly constant.

 

How can Psylegal help me with the grieving process?

All psychologists at Psylegal have extensive knowledge and experience in the grief-counselling field. They can help you through the grieving process by the following:

  • Providing you with the social support a person needs when confronted with a loss.
  • Identifying and resolving any issues that are preventing the completion of the grieving process.
  • Teaching you therapeutic or coping techniques such as mindfulness.
  • Identifying and addressing any underlying psychological issues that may be contributing to the severity of grief experienced.
  • Helping you accept the reality and finality of the loss.
  • Helping you process the pain associated with the loss.
  • Helping you adjust to a world without the deceased.
  • Providing you with individualised counselling to suit your needs.

Speak to one of our Psychologists today!  To make an appointment call us on 1300 79 22 09.

Medicare rebates are available. You will need a referral from your doctor.

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