5 Do's and Dont's of Dealing with Other's Mental Illness
How to Help People Dealing with the Death of a Loved One
When someone you know is dealing with the death of a loved one, you may not know what to say or do. You may feel uncomfortable doing anything at all, but it's important to show people that you care for them in their time of grief.
Recognizing Experiences of Grief
Acknowledge that grieving is different for everyone.The grieving person may feel very different emotions from one day to the next, and from hour to hour.
- People experience grief in very different ways. Some people may feel multiple emotions, such as denial or anger, at the same time. Some people may take awhile to feel anything at all, experiencing a sense of numbness after loss.
- It is often more helpful to think of grief as a "roller coaster" instead of orderly stages. People who have experienced a loss may seem completely accepting of it one day and in denial the next. They may feel angry one moment and calm the next. It is important to validate their feelings as natural responses to loss.
Recognize that either acceptance or denial is a natural response.Although popular culture expects denial to be the first response to experiencing the loss of a loved one, research suggests otherwise. Acceptance of the death is actually much more common an initial response than denial.However, it is also possible to experience shock or denial. It all depends on the individual. The duration of shock varies greatly among individuals and across circumstances.
- It is important to give a person in this stage time to process information. You should acknowledge the death, but it is not necessary to force others to acknowledge the death before they are ready to do so.
Recognize the person's yearning for the loved one.Research suggests that yearning for the lost loved one is a stronger initial response than disbelief, anger, or depression.This yearning may manifest itself as something like "I miss him so much" or "Life just isn't the same without her." The person may go back over old memories, photos, and other things tied to the lost loved one as a way to keep that connection alive. This is natural.
Recognize anger as a way to cope with hurt.As the shock and hurt of the initial loss wears off, the bereaved may use anger to combat the pain. Research suggests that feelings of anger increase between 1-5 months after a loss, and then gradually subside after that.
- The anger may be irrational and misplaced. It may manifest as blaming a deity, fate, or themselves for the loss. Do not minimize these feelings by using shaming language, such as "Don't be angry" or "Don't blame God." Validate the bereaved's feelings of anger by saying: "I'm sure that it's painful to go through what you're experiencing. Anger seems natural to me."
Watch for depression.Depressed moods are normal after a major loss and will not necessarily lead to Major Depressive Disorder. Research suggests that depression may peak between 1-5 months after the loss.However, the initial shock of the loss may also cause depressive symptoms, such as mood swings, feelings of immense sadness, and trouble concentrating.
- If the bereaved has expressed a desire to harm him or herself or has completely withdrawn, these may be signs of Major Depressive Disorder, and you should contact a mental health professional.
Help the bereaved complete the tasks of mourning.Mourning is a way of expressing and processing one's grief. Some psychologists that there are particular tasks that people need to complete in order to feel some sense of acceptance and closure. It should be stressed, though, that how each person completes these will be unique to them.
- Accept the reality of the loss: Intellectual acceptance often happens quite early in the mourning process,but it can take a long time for the emotions to catch up.You can help this along by speaking (compassionately) about the loss.
- Process grief and pain. This can take a long time. How each person processes grief is unique to them.
- Adjust to a world without the loved one. The types of adjustments include external (such as finding a new place to live or closing bank accounts), internal (redefining oneself apart from the relationship with the loved one), and spiritual (considering the impact of the loss on your worldview).
- Find enduring connection with the loved one while going into a new life stage. One common misconception about grief is that you should encourage people to "get over it."However, bereaved people may want to find a way to help them feel connected to their lost loved one, and that is natural. Help find a way to remember your friend's loved one with a special memorial project, whether it's planting a tree, creating a scholarship or another meaningful activity. At the same time, encourage the person to continue to discover new aspects of herself and what life means for her now.
Allow the person not to express anything at all.Popular culture tends to insist that people "let it out" while grieving. We usually believe that if you do not express your emotional reactions to a trauma, you will be unable to move on from it. However, research suggests that this is not entirely true. People experience and process grief in very different ways. Do not try to force any emotional experience on them.
- Studies about loss in general, and bereavement in particular, actually suggest that people who do not express negative emotions abut their loss may actually be less stressed and depressed six months later. If the people you're trying to help want to express their feelings, support them, but don't pressure them to do so. They may simply be using another valid way to cope.
Expressing Empathy for the Grieving
Acknowledge that a death has occurred.Be honest and tell the grieving person you don't know what to say or do. Then ask what you can do to help.
- For example, "I heard about your grandfather passing. I'm so sorry for you and your family, and I wish I knew how to help. What can I do for you?"
Do household chores or run errands for the bereaved.The days immediately following a loss tend to be particularly hectic. If the bereaved does not ask you to help with specific activities, offer to pick up groceries, help with housework or cooking, or care for pets or children.
- It is more helpful to make specific offers than it is to say "Tell me if you need anything."
Attend the funeral and other gatherings.Don't worry about saying the right things. Simply being there is a show of support.
- If you are unable to attend an event, send a tangible expression of your love and support. You might consider sending a sympathy card, flowers, or a CD of uplifting music. If the person is spiritual, you could send the person something that affirms her traditions about loss and death.
- Be sensitive. How cultures and spiritual traditions deal with grief, death, and loss varies widely.Do not assume that others will experience it the same way that you do, or find comfort in your own traditions.
Listen and express compassion for your friend.Simply ask if she feels like talking and then sit silently and listen. Allow the grief to take form in tears, as well as happy memories.
Recognizing When to Suggest Additional Support
Watch for signs of severe depression that require intervention.It's normal for the bereaved to feel depressed,but these feelings can develop into a more serious problem, if left unchecked for an extended period of time. Tell the person you are concerned.
- Studies suggest that the most intense feelings of grief usually last about six months, although it varies from person to person.If more than six months has gone by and the person does not show signs of any improvement, or if her symptoms have gotten worse, she may be experiencingcomplicated grief.This is a continual, heightened state of grief that keeps the person from processing emotions and moving through them.It may also be known as prolonged grief disorder.
- Recommend seeking professional help if you notice any of the following: difficulty functioning in normal activities, alcohol or drug abuse, hallucinations, withdrawal and isolation, self-harm, and talk of suicide.
Locate bereavement support groups.Contact local organizations and groups to ask for guidance helping your friend.
- Recommend to your friend that they should attend support group meetings and offer to go with him or her. If you think your friend will decline, you may even try telling him or her you'd like to join the group and ask them to go to support you.
Continue to support your friend long after the funeral.Stay in contact and offer words of encouragement. Grieving is an ongoing process, so the bereaved will likely need extra support for at least several months.
- Help your friend be prepared to handle future triggers and be prepared to offer extra support at those times.Anniversaries (of death or marriage), birthdays (the deceased's, as well as those of the living), special events (weddings, graduations, births, or any event the deceased would have participated in, or would have liked to participate in), holidays, and even times of day (for people who had regular well established routines with the deceased) can all be triggers.
- You can help your friend manage triggers by planning activities to distract from them, establishing time during events to briefly reminisce about the deceased, and creating new traditions and routines.
QuestionMy partner has lost her father very suddenly but every time I say anything she is very angry with me. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry as hard as you can to not take the anger personally, as this is part of the grieving process. Tell her in a calm manner that if she needs to talk, you'll be there for her. In the meantime, show her you care by allowing her some space to grieve her loss and doing little things for her like cooking a meal, helping with chores, etc.Thanks!
QuestionAre loss of animals handled pretty much the same ways?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, being that they are a part of the family. Have a memorial and prayer and words of comfort for the ones who are hurting.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I do if my friend is calling me insensitive after her brother died when I do care, but I've never experienced death?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust be honest with her! Say something like: "Listen, I really do care and will support you every step of the way, but the truth is I have never experienced death or the grieving of a loved one so I'm having a little trouble relating. Sorry if I come off as insensitive." Sometimes though, it's not so much about relating or having personal experience tied to a particular situation, but supporting her! It might be a little hard, but try your best. She will appreciate it. Do little things like buying supportive cards, talking it out with her, just being there for her, etc. Ask her what she needs.Thanks!
QuestionI don't know how to help my friend. His mother is dying. What can I do about it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust be a friend. Be there for your friend to talk to, cry to or whatever is needed.Thanks!
QuestionIs there any way that two people grieving can help each other, or would it be worse for the healing process?Top AnswererSure, of course they can help. No two people are the same, but going through a similar process definitely helps in understanding each other. There is the risk that you take turns pulling each other down again, but as long as you're aware of this, you can prevent it. Don't lock yourself up together for months, either; talk to more people than just each other. Finally, if the other person is asked to give help they may want to, but simply not have the reserves to do so.Thanks!
QuestionMy girlfriend just lost her mother and can't stop crying. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou just have to be there for her and let her know that she has support. Call her just to check in and hold her when she's crying. It's going to take a long time for her to get over this, and there's really nothing you can do to make it happen any faster, you just have to be there for her.Thanks!
- Don't be afraid to bring up the person who died. Sharing memories is a way to honor your friend and the dead.
- Avoid telling the bereaved you know what they're going through or compare your past grief to theirs.
- Don't give grieving people advice unless they ask.
- Avoid abusing drugs and alcohol with the grieving, as it will likely only make the situation worse. Discourage the bereaved from engaging in self-destructive behavior.
- If the bereaved engage in self-harm or speak of suicide, seek professional help immediately.
- Irrational and misguided anger are common. Understand this anger may sometimes be directed toward you, and don't take it personally.
Sources and Citations
- Coifman, K. G., Bonanno, G. A., Ray, R., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Does repressive coping promote resilience? Affective-autonomic response discrepancy during bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 745-758.
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