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Health > Mental Health > Grief


Grief is intensely painful, but it is also a healing process, if it is recognized, respected and given full expression

The loss of someone loved through death is one of the chief causes of grief, but by no means the only one. Separation through divorce can grieve people deeply, and so can the loss of a limb or of a sense, such as sight, for example.

Other causes of grief are often not recognized for what they are, and the person affected is given little chance to mourn. In this category of grief comes, for example, loss of job, the death of a loved animal, or having to move to a strange place. Any loss that causes of major upheaval in life can, in fact, give rise to feelings of grief, which should be respected and allowed full expression.


The first reaction of great loss is numbness, an inability to grasp what has happened or to respond to it. This is soon followed by a painful yearning, mixed at times with feelings of fear and anxiety, and at others with disbelief that the cause of the grief has actually happened. The grieving person may also experience-and express guilt and anger, and be troubled, too, by physical reactions, such as loss of appetite and weight, and difficulty in sleeping.

As the meaning of the loss sinks in, the bereaved person often feels depression and despair, and physical sensations of listlessness and apathy. Nothing seems worthwhile; the future looks bleak and empty and everyday life is an effort without pleasure. In most cases, all these feelings will gradually pass, but grieving is a long process that cannot and should not be hurried.


Children suffering from grief need special help, especially if the cause is the death of a close relative. The true facts-as far as they can understand them-should be explained; otherwise they are likely to invent an explanation of what has happened which could disturb them. They should also be encouraged to express anger and guilt: the intensity of their feelings can frighten them and they will be reassured if an adult listens calmly to them. Above all, their daily lives should go on as normally as possible: they will be better able to bear a great shock if things around them remain unchanged.


Recovery from grief takes time, varying in length according to the person and the circumstances. Anyone suffering from grief should be gently encouraged to rebuild their life, strengthening existing relationships and creating new ones. People who come through the stages of grief successfully gain in strength, knowing that they have faced one of the greatest tests which human beings can undergo and have survived.

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