Natural disasters can profoundly impact the mental health of individuals and communities. The loss of a home, personal belongings, and loved ones can greatly enhance emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and grief. This article will explore the intersection of mental health and natural disasters, focusing on understanding grief and bereavement in the aftermath of such traumatic events.
Understanding Mental Health and Grief
Before exploring the impact of natural disasters on mental health, it is essential to understand the concepts of mental health, grief, and bereavement.
Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It influences how we think, feel, and act and plays a role in our ability to handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is essential at every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood.
Grief is an emotional response to loss. While it is commonly associated with the death of a loved one or a pet, it can extend to the loss of belongings, homes, communities, and a sense of security in the context of natural disasters.
Bereavement refers specifically to the mourning and grief accompanying the death of someone with a significant emotional attachment. For children, this typically involves the loss of a parent, parental figure, or sibling.
The Impact of Natural Disasters on Mental Health
Natural disasters are traumatic events that can negatively affect individuals’ mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The impact of a disaster is not limited to the immediate aftermath but can continue to affect individuals and communities over the long term.
Research has shown that people and communities affected by natural disasters undergo reactions and varying recovery processes. Pre-existing physical and mental health conditions, social networks, political power, economic capital, and access to mental health care can all influence these reactions and recovery
In addition, the emotional highs and lows experienced by survivors continue long after the disaster. Many individuals may initially experience a sense of stabilisation and even elevation in mood due to stories of heroism and the fact they survived. However, as they confront the reality of their losses and the challenges of rebuilding their lives, disillusionment and grief can set in. The intensity and frequency of these periods of distress may decrease over time. But they can continue to resurface, particularly around the event’s anniversary.
It is important to note that not everyone is equally at risk during a disaster. Specific populations, such as the elderly, school-aged children, individuals with chronic illnesses, those with limited access to healthcare, and first responders, may face higher levels of vulnerability and require additional support.
Supporting Mental Health in the Aftermath of Natural Disasters
To effectively address a person’s mental health needs in the aftermath of natural disasters, specific actions may be needed:
Make sure everyone involved is in the decision-making and long-term planning for recovery.
Identify the mental health support needed and if there are gaps in the care and work to address them.
Foster collaborative and comprehensive approaches to help the individuals and the community.
Promote honesty about mental health needs and explain the process of psychological recovery.
Develop a trusted referral network to connect individuals with the appropriate mental health services.
Local governments and NGOs will have plans to facilitate recovery at all levels.
AMindset psychotherapists are able to help you during this difficult period when you are coming to terms with a loss as a result of a natural disaster. As more and more catastrophic events happen, it is important to seek help. You are not alone in the journey of recovery.
Mental health and grief are significant aspects of recovery following natural disasters. The emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and grief experienced by individuals and communities affected by these events require appropriate and ongoing support. By working with your client, you can address their unique needs and ensure that mental health support is integral to their recovery.
Grief is a universal experience that can be triggered by various forms of loss, including the death of a loved one, the loss of independence, or the diagnosis of a terminal illness. This emotional journey is complex and unique to each individual, encompassing a range of emotions and reactions. In this article, we will explore the different aspects of grief, from its definitions and stages to coping strategies and support resources. Whether you are currently experiencing grief or seeking to understand the process better, this article aims to provide valuable insights and practical guidance.
Understanding Grief: A Multifaceted Experience
Grief is a natural response to loss, encompassing emotional, physical, social, and spiritual dimensions. It is not limited to the death of a loved one but can also arise from various life-altering events. Anticipatory grief, for example, occurs when a person expects the death of a terminally ill loved one. This type of grief can be just as intense and transformative as grief following a loss. It is essential to recognize that grief is a highly individual experience, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
The Phases: Exploring Different Models
Several models have been proposed to understand the process of grief. One widely recognized model is the five grieving stages, as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlined. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, it is crucial to note that these stages are not linear and can be experienced in different sequences or simultaneously. Other models, such as Bowlby and Parkes’ Four Phases of Grief, Worden’s Four Basic Tasks in Adapting to Loss, and Neimeyer’s Narrative and Constructivist Model, offer alternative perspectives on the grieving process.
Anticipatory Grief: Navigating the Journey Before Loss
Anticipatory grief is a unique form of grieving that occurs when individuals anticipate the death of a loved one. This type of grief is often experienced by those who have a relationship with a terminally ill person. It can encompass a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and fear. Anticipatory grief provides an opportunity for individuals to prepare emotionally, say their goodbyes, and find closure. Understanding and acknowledging anticipatory grief can help individuals navigate this complex emotional landscape more effectively.
Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Grief
Grief manifests differently in each person, but there are common signs and symptoms to be aware of. These may include sadness, tearfulness, anger, anxiety, guilt, fatigue, and emotional numbness. Physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and poor concentration can also accompany grief. Recognising these signs and seeking support when needed is crucial, as prolonged or unresolved grief can significantly impact emotional well-being.
Coping: Strategies for Healing and Growth
While grief cannot be eliminated, there are healthy ways to cope with and navigate the grieving process. The following strategies can assist individuals in finding healing and growth amidst their grief:
Expressing Emotions and Seeking Support
One of the most important aspects of grieving is allowing oneself to express emotions freely. Talking to trusted family members, friends, or healthcare professionals can provide an outlet for processing grief. Support groups or counselling sessions can also offer a safe space to share experiences and gain insights from others who have undergone similar losses. AMindset offers grief counselling with our specialised psychotherapists.
Prioritizing Physical and Emotional Well-being
Taking care of one’s physical and emotional health is crucial during the grieving process. This includes getting enough rest, eating nutritious meals, engaging in regular exercise, and participating in activities that bring joy and relaxation. Self-care practices such as meditation, journaling, or engaging in hobbies can also contribute to overall well-being.
Spending Meaningful Time Together
Spending quality time together becomes invaluable when a loved one is nearing the end of life. Allowing the dying person to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment, listening attentively, and sharing stories can create meaningful connections and provide comfort for both parties. These moments can also help individuals address any regrets, fears, or concerns they may have.
Staying Informed and Seeking Resources
Educating oneself about the grieving process and seeking additional resources can be empowering. Books, articles, and blogs specifically focused on grief can provide valuable insights and guidance. Local hospice organizations often offer grief support services, including bereavement groups, one-on-one counselling, and resource libraries with books and materials available for loan.
Cultivating Love, Forgiveness, and Letting Go
Grief offers an opportunity for individuals to express love, seek forgiveness, and let go of any unresolved issues. Saying goodbye and addressing regrets or concerns can bring closure and promote emotional healing. It is essential to reassure the dying person that it is okay to let go and that their loved ones will be okay, demonstrating love and compassion during this difficult time.
Seeking Professional Support: Hospice and Grief Resources
Throughout the grieving process, professional support can be invaluable. Hospice organizations, such as Hospice of the Red River Valley, offer comprehensive care for individuals facing terminal illnesses and their families. These organizations provide medical, emotional, spiritual, and personal support, ensuring that patients and their loved ones receive the necessary care during this tender time. Hospice also offers grief support services, including support groups, individual counselling, and community resources, to help individuals navigate the complexities of grief.
Conclusion: Navigating the Path of Grief
Grief is a transformative journey that unfolds differently for each person. Understanding the multifaceted nature of grief, recognizing its various forms, and acknowledging the signs and symptoms are crucial steps in navigating this path. By embracing healthy coping strategies, seeking support, and staying informed, individuals can find healing, growth, and resilience amidst their grief. Remember, grief is a natural response to loss; you don’t have to face it alone. AMindset Psychology Services are here to help
We’ve all been through a time when the world seemed dull and hopeless after experiencing a loss – regardless of whether they’re family, friends or simply an individual of great significance to us. People experience loss in a multitude of ways beyond the passing of a loved one; we grieve at the end of a relationship, a permanent change in appearance, a passing life stage, or simply anything that we can never again regain or revisit. Due to the cyclic nature of life, we deal with grief constantly. Some of them are more gradual and less noticeable like ageing, while others may be more unexpected and sudden like the death of a loved one.
Grief affects us in ways beyond both physical and emotional pain. The five stages of grief modelled by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross concluded that the five major emotions experienced during grief were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2014). This model was based on her work on patients with terminal illnesses, suggesting that these five stages were more applicable to people facing their own existential crises rather than those who were grieving. But in practice, we find that the five stages were also shown in grief clients despite the lack of linearity of graphical evidence. Most of the time these emotions are interwoven with many others, including guilt and fear. Beyond emotional responses, the process of grief also includes natural physical responses like sleeplessness, appetite loss, and a weakened immune system. But with proper coping mechanisms, these responses can be alleviated with time, allowing you to feel more prepared to make peace with it.
Grief is a personal and subjective process, and coping mechanisms vary amongst people, so there is no norm or timetable to abide by. In most cases, people can process and resume their day-to-day functions after a certain period of time. However, in more severe cases (i.e., the loss of a romantic partner, the loss of a parent, the loss of a grandparent) we find it overwhelming. Especially if such grief was complex or unresolved (for example through sudden life changes, traumatic events, or unresolved issues with the deceased). During Covid-19, these situations were more prevalent than ever before. One of my friends was unable to complete quarantine in time to see his beloved family member in the hospital for the last time. Another one was unable to enter Hong Kong due to Covid-19 restrictions and had missed the last call from his father before he passed in the ICU.
In sessions, we sometimes find people still struggling with loss even after many years due to the build-up of pain over time in addition to mental challenges stemming from grief, including difficulties in emotion regulation or disassociation. Such challenges can become debilitating as individuals often do not even realise that grief is still affecting them. Clinically, the prevalence of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) was found in approximately 9.8% of bereaved adults in the population. Of the adults suffering from PGD, the symptoms they experienced consisted of intense preoccupation with the deceased, persistent distress, detached or numbed emotion, inability to trust others, and avoidance of the reality of loss (Rosner et al, 2018).
However, there are many ways to make it easier to cope with grief. If you are currently grieving, there are a multitude of things that may help you navigate this time:
Know That You Are Not Alone
Because there was love, there will be pain. Whenever there is a start, there will be an end. As the pain of loss is natural and inevitable, no one can live without going through it. But rather than fearing it, try to remember that it is possible to have an easier relationship with the pain of the loss by allowing ourselves to feel it.
Talk About Your Feelings
If you feel that you are struggling with grief, resistance or avoidance will not lift the burden. Instead it may cause unnecessary frustration. Try to express and share your feelings though they are difficult. It will aid your grieving progress. Begin to share these thoughts with your support system, address them in a journal, and find your emotional outlet.
Share Your Memories
Share your memories to alleviate fear of forgetting them. Recalling and sharing the memories with those you surround yourself with can bring you a sense of peace amidst this painful time. The most memorable moment during the funeral of a loved one is the sharing of cherished memories with the people who share our pain. These moments may remind us of the fragility of life and how despite the fact that we are mortal, the love we have is eternal.
Find Ways to Remain Connected With Your Loved One
You can still connect with those who are no longer with us. I have seen many post-it memos placed along the surface of a tombstone by a wife or a grandchild, each inscribed with a message yearning for their beloved husband or grandfather’s embrace one last time. While others may play songs they used to listen to together, or plant a tree to symbolise their everlasting life. These things serve as a reminder to us that despite our loved one not being physically with us, they are here with us in spirit.
Everyone grieves at their own pace. To find the best way to heal you have to take care and prioritise yourself. If you feel like crying, cry it out. If you need space, ask for space. It is not selfish nor insensitive to take time for yourself to heal. Please do not be hard on yourself for not being ‘strong enough’ in such circumstances, instead, we learn how to be strong enough through grief. Only through pure transparency with ourselves and our emotions can we make peace with them.
Remember That Your Life is Valuable
There are a lot of changes that follow loss, sometimes the change is so drastic that you begin to feel lost in the world. Just as how precious the deceased are to you, your life is just as precious to your family, your friends, and most importantly, your own self. With this mindset you will learn to find purposefulness in continuing on with the future and finding back your sense of self that was lost amidst the grief.
Seek Help When You Need It
If you ever feel overwhelmed in the madness, reaching out to your support system is a wonderful method. You can also read self-help books pertaining to grief, seek help from your religion, your support group, or perhaps by paying a visit to a professional psychotherapist as a source of help for navigating past these mental challenges.
If you are accompanying someone who is grieving, here are some helpful ways you can engage:
Keep Them Company
Yes, you just need to stay with them. Remember that they do not need advice or positive talk at the moment, they simply need your presence. Having someone alongside you who is listening with all of their heart is one of the best forms of support. Even if you cannot be there in person, texting or calling them is another viable way of showing support. The feeling of being cared for will aid them through this difficult time.
Whether it is house renovation, work, or travel planning, it can help people temporarily disconnect from reality and focus on the world around them. Exercise is always a good idea to help them feel uplifted naturally, so asking them for a walk if they are willing to do so is another effective form of distraction. If they do not want to engage in anything physically, providing them with a list of TV show recommendations may help occupy part of their mind.
Be of Help
There are a multitude of things you can do to help provide an extent of aid towards a grieving individual. For instance, you can help them with their chores, take their kids to the park, order food for them, etc., Simply by doing this you are offering substantial help and providing time and energy for the individual to deal with the chaos surrounding their loss.
Respect, Empathy, and Understanding
There are times when grieving individuals may have some irrational thoughts like bargaining with fate or impulsive, emotion-centred reactions such as blaming the hospital or the doctor. Try to give them space to sort things out and accommodate them with understanding. Everyone heals at their own pace, so your respect is an important buffer for them to feel supported and loved to learn to make peace with their bereavement.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of the loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – On Grief & Grieving, Kübler-Ross and Kessler
It is a heartbreaking part of the journey. But aren’t we blessed to ever have someone or something that was so hard to let go of in this life?
Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, David. (2014). On grief & grieving : finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss (Scribner trade pbk. ed.). Scribner.
Rosner, Rita, Rimane, Eline, Vogel, Anna, Rau, Jörn, & Hagl, Maria. (2018). Treating prolonged grief disorder with prolonged grief-specific cognitive behavioral therapy: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 19(1), 241–241. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-018-2618-3
If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.
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