MH Mind: Grief Encounters
Men's Health South Africa|September - October 2020
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MH Mind: Grief Encounters
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an indescribable amount of grief. And to add insult to injury, it’s also gone and upended the ways we would usually have processed our feelings. So what do we do now? We asked experts to share their tips for navigating loss.
Megan Flemmit

If there’s one topic we tend to avoid talking about, it’s grief. And yet amidst all the uncertainty of the current global health crisis, if there’s one thing we can be certain about, it’s that we’re all experiencing it right now. “Grief is a natural human response to a significant loss of a treasured person or a valued part of our life experience,” says psychiatrist Dr Barry Fortuin. We’re not just mourning the death of loved ones, but the loss of our potential futures and the lives we would have had. To make matters worse, we’re often dealing with more than one type of loss at a time.

Previous research on personal loss during times of broad social distress has shown how the effects can linger even after the danger has passed. A study in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that survivors of the Rwandan genocide had lingering mental health issues as a result of their traditional methods of mourning being halted during the war. A study in the journal Death Studies found that survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struggled with chronic grief.

While the current pandemic is different to those events, it brings stressors of its own: It’s led to the death of thousands of people around the world, along with largescale unemployment. The pandemic has disrupted the way we work, the way we socialise and the way we seek comfort from those closest to us.

MANY FACES OF LOSS

We tend to associate loss with death. In reality, it can take many forms and each comes with its own type of grief.

Losing A Loved One

This was hard enough before we found ourselves in the midst of an overwhelming health crisis. But lockdown regulations have made it tougher. Often we’re unable to be with our loved ones in their final hours and we have to say our goodbyes by ‘attending’ funerals via Zoom. The added inability to be present with friends and family as we deal with the loss complicates our grieving process.

Being Retrenched

A recent survey* found that two months into the pandemic, three million South Africans had lost their jobs. “A job might represent capability and financial security. So, when someone loses that they might feel a sense of inadequacy or vulnerability,” says psychologist Caitlin Vinson. “The bleak outlook of the economy only adds to their sense of hopelessness,” adds Fortuin. Along with losing out on financial stability, you might miss your work, the structure your work provided you with or your colleagues.

Ending Or Changing A Relationship

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September - October 2020