February 21, 2018 | Categories: Mental Health
After the death of a spouse, it’s normal to feel like you’re in shock you’re your life has be turned upside down. While there are no rules about the right way and wrong way to mourn, there are some signs to look for if you think grief has taken over your life and has become a serious health issue. We spoke to Sheerli Ratner, Ph.D. a psychologist embedded in the department of family medicine, at The MetroHealth System, Cleveland, about how mourning and grief can turn into a more serious mental health concern, as well as how to get help and support from your doctors and community.
“I try to encourage people not to get caught up with how long grief can last or to feel pressure from others to ‘move on,’” says Dr. Ratner. Mourning could take years and still be considered “normal grief,” she says. As long as the person is continuing to function, and if their symptoms aren’t getting worse, their grieving period can be normal, says Dr. Ratner. It’s also normal if you want to talk about your partner who passed and you may need to tell your family to let you do that.
A distinguishing factor between “normal grief” and “prolonged grief” or “complicated grief” which can lead to depression, is sometimes determined by how long it goes on for. “Some people bounce back quickly, and for others, it can take a while. It depends on how you react to the grief,” says Ratner. Another factor to consider is whether you’re able to function while moving through the grief. You might avoid social interacts for some time, which is normal, says Dr. Ratner. But if you find it more difficult to get out of bed, go to work, interact with people, and do things like make yourself meals, and find yourself sleeping more or drinking alcohol, then there may be more reason for concern, says Dr. Ratner.
If you’ve had a history of depression and lost a spouse, you may be more likely to have grief that leads to depression, says Dr. Ratner. Other people who may struggle even more during this grieving period are those whose partner was their only support system.
Mental health issues like anxiety and depression are medical issues. Just like any health issue, the longer it goes untreated, the worse it gets and the harder it is to treat, says Dr. Ratner. If you think your grief is taking a turn towards depression, make an appointment with a trusted doctor to discuss how you’re feeling. Tell them about your recent loss, as well as any symptoms or emotional stresses you are feeling, and if you’ve had depression in the past. They may refer you to a psychologist to talk to as well as make other recommendations. Dr. Ratner says it’s very important to join a “grief support group” so you can be with people experiencing similar situations as you. It’s also a good idea to talk to family members and trusted friends about how you’re feeling so they can look after you. You may want to try to establish a daily routine in your life again to get back some sense or normalcy, like daily exercise, which can help boost your mood. Consider making at least one social appointment a week to have lunch with a friend, see your grandkids, or volunteer at a library or walk dogs at a local shelter.
“I don’t think men and women mourn differently from a gender perspective,” says Dr. Ratner. More often, it’s helpful to focus on what each spouse did in the partnership. One person may pay bills and handle the car repair, the other person may cook the meals and handle the social activities, so now this one person has to do it all, and learning to manage additional finances, household repair, and other tasks will typically overwhelm people, she says.
If you’re going through this, be aware that these additional responsibilities can crop up. Ask yourself what kind of loss and support you need in order to manage some of these things on your own. You might pay a young neighbor to mow your lawn. Have a family member show you how to cook some basic meals, or a few of the family favorites. Consider setting up your bills for automatic payment online so you don’t have to think about them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help during this time.
“Rather look at the gender divide, look at what each one’s role was and how this person now is missing that and needs to try to find a way to build or rebuild that,” says Ratner.
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