Grief and Loss and Its Role in Our Mental Health (Part 1 of 2)
Learning to recognize the presence of grief and how to work with it at your own pace is paramount to your mental health
By Quentin Steen, Representative
One of the themes that I continue to hear from the stories of individuals affected by the pandemic is connected to a personal sense of loss. The loss has many faces, and its effect on others can take many shapes and forms.
This experience of loss because of the pandemic is a continuum. On one end, there is the loss of the sense of control, the known, the individual freedoms we once enjoyed, of a stable work environment, the annual vacation we look forward to, or the previously established patterns of family dynamics.
On the other end, the loss of a long term job due to company restructuring, a stable income, a forced leave of absence from a job you enjoyed to ensure your child doesn’t get left behind, or at worst, the loss of a loved one or friend due to the pandemic.
Then there are the countless losses in between. No matter what the loss is, don’t be surprised to discover the presence of grief, on whatever level, that comes with loss. They are intertwined.
Learning to recognize the presence of grief and how to work with it at your own pace is paramount to your mental health.
On that note, allow me to introduce you to my sister-in-law Jackie Frasch, who is a registered professional counsellor and certified grief counsellor. She knows a thing or two about grief and loss.
As a counsellor, she hosts grief support groups and works with individuals dealing with grief, which is why I asked her to contribute her thoughts and perspective to our Mental Health Moments as if we were part of one of her sessions. Here is what she has to say.
Let’s start the conversation on the role that grief and loss play in our mental health by first examining what grief is not.
7 Things Grief is Not
1. Grief is not a 5-10 step plan of action to do, then you are healed.
2. Grief is not the misconception that society labels as the right and wrong way to grieve—or suggests do not grieve at all!
3. Grief is not timely.
4. Grief is not something to get over.
5. Grief is not a choice.
6. Grief is not fair.
7. Grief is not normal.
Now that we have clarified what it is not, let us tap into what we know it is!
Grief is the reaction we experience when an attachment we had to someone or something is severed. It is a loss of connection.
It is the loss we experience when we give of ourselves to someone or something and can no longer connect in that way. Pain and loss is a universal experience when we lose a loved one, a job, marriage, friendships, a career to retirement, the presence of our children at home, and yes, even our beloved pets.
When we realize that we can all experience pain from any loss, it allows us to have a little less judgment and a little more empathy toward others struggling through the pain, beginning with ourselves.
The key is opening yourself to the pain, and that can be scary. Becoming curious allows for healing.
The alternative is denying or suppressing your pain, which, as we know, causes more pain—being willing to sit with the discomfort and explore these emotions that you may not have experienced before.
Grief is so much more than the loss of the physical person who died. Such grief can come with an entire lifetime of losses, sometimes known as secondary losses, and they can be significantly more detrimental to our mental health state than our primary loss.
8 Losses Often Connected to Losing a Loved One
1. A loss of self (a part of you died)
2. A loss of the role you played with the person (or in your job)
3. A loss of your health (physical symptoms)
4. A loss of self-confidence (low esteem)
5. A loss of parts of your personality (you knew who you were with the person)
6. A loss of security (emotional support)
7. A loss of finances (taking care of bills)
8. A loss of purpose (hopes and dreams of your future together)
Imagine for a moment that your experience of grief is like a land unknown to you. It’s a new world for you. You have no map of its landscape. It’s filled with uncharted territories, situations, and emotions tied to secondary losses that you have never dealt with before. It’s a land that you have never explored before, or asked to journey through, but here you are.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a leading grief counsellor, said, “Where does heartache go if you don’t let it out when it naturally arises? It doesn’t disappear. It bides its time, patiently at first, then urgently, like a caged animal pacing behind the bars.”
As you explore its surroundings, your once empty map begins to take shape. You make notes of its murky waters and thick forests and as your map grows, so too does your ability to navigate the next unknown.
Join us in our next Mental Health Moment to learn how we can embrace the exploration required to navigate the unknown successfully.
Quentin Steen is a certified mental health first aid instructor for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Get your BRAIN right and your MIND will follow!
4 Mental Health Resources to Help You During the Pandemic
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, CLAC has a number of resources and interactive tools available to help you at My Health and Wellness.
Stronger Minds features videos and quick reads from mental health experts, activities to help you gain resilience, and ask-an-expert videos in response to questions.
WellCan offers free well-being resources to help Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health, and substance abuse concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.