Grief isn’t the easier thing to deal with. Here’s how to tell if you need help.
When Mary (not her real name) lost her husband to a heart attack more than six months ago, her world came crashing down.
She couldn’t come to terms with his sudden death and still misses him a lot.
“Whenever she hears stories of someone else who had a heart attack, she gets very upset and does not want to hear more,” Dr Ashwin Chee, who treats her, told The New Paper.
Mary is an example of how losing a loved one can lead to complicated grief, a chronic condition that requires treatment.
It happens when feelings of grief do not ease with time, but instead worsen, said Dr Chee, a consultant at Sengkang Health’s Department of Psychiatry.
The symptoms include an extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders, numbness or detachment and irritability or agitation.
“Although it is normal to feel intense sadness when you lose someone, not many people know when this intense sadness becomes something worse like depression and needs to be treated by a professional.
“This may have something to do with the misconception that it is normal for grief to linger for an indefinite period of time.
“Although one never truly ‘recovers’ from the loss of a loved one, the feelings of sadness and pain do reduce in intensity with time,” Dr Chee said.
The grieving process, according to Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, consists of five stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.
Weeks to years
But not everyone goes through these stages in this order, said Dr Chee.
Sometimes, people do not experience certain stages at all.
“Recovery from grief can take weeks to years.
“Although there is no one definite way to recover from grief, it is universally accepted that one should be encouraged to accept the loss and to not bury it away and not face the truth.
“Everyone goes through grief in their own unique way and pressuring someone to move on quickly will just make things worse,” he said.
But if a grieving persons start showing signs of depression months later, like Mary, they may require professional help.
“They may have poor sleep and appetite, poor concentration, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.
“In addition, they would also have trouble carrying out normal routines and have withdrawn from social activities,” said Dr Chee.
Mary, for instance, still feels very depressed every day and her sleep and appetite are affected.
“She has no mood to do anything and has thoughts that life is not worth living at times.
“She also complains of poor concentration and memory, stating that she forgets where she puts her things and what she has said to people,” he said.
When these warning signs appear, Dr Chee suggests seeking professional help.
“If those who require help do not seek help, there is a chance their mood could worsen and they may develop severe depression which may, unfortunately, lead to suicide,” he said.
Fortunately for Mary, she sought help at Sengkang Health and is now on anti-depressant medication. She has also been referred to a psychologist for therapy.
A version of this story first appeared in The New Paper on August 3, 2017, with the headline, ‘Seek help if grieving is ruining your health’.