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So this week is mental illness awareness week, and today is national depression screening day. As I post a lot on mental health related topics so I feel like it is something I should address. I wasn’t really sure what to write about as I have already said a lot of what I want to say, an I generally just talk about topics when they come into my mind. Anyway, what I came up with was the topic of mental illness and death.

Death is something that will affect all of us at some point or another. If you have not lost a close friend or family member then you are part of a lucky minority. Death is a normal part of life, but that does not make it any easier on the people left behind, especially if the death is sudden or untimely. Although, I should point out that even if death is expected and the person has lived a long life, this may not make things any easier on those left behind. Grief doesn’t get less bad because the death was “normal” and from old age.

Why am I talking about death with relation to mental illness? The death of a loved one can have a severe impact on a person. Some people respond well, they grieve and then move on promising to live life to the fullest now they have been more closely acquainted with mortality. Others do not respond as well. Grief can last months, slowly it lingers and eventually becomes a depression.

Doctors are still unsure as to where to draw the line between “normal” grief and depression. Personally, I think this shows part of the problem. “Normal” grief. Everyone grieves differently, everyone feels emotions differently, and responds to them differently. We can’t put a label on what is normal in terms of grief. In society, there is a set time for grief. If you lose a family member you are expected to take a certain amount of time off from work or school, but then after that time you are expected to come back as normal. What is normal though? A person’s life has just been thrown upside down. They are in emotional turmoil, and likely have practical aspects of the death to deal with but still that have to get back to it and act “normal”.

The stigma associated around grief is similar to mental illness. People don’t want to talk about it, it’s like they have a fear of “catching” the death. Death makes people uncomfortable, which is fair; no one wants to deal with their own mortality or that of their loved ones.  We all know that it’s a horrible, indescribable feeling but still we set rules of normalcy as to how one is supposed to behave after a loss. I know of someone who was told that it wasn’t her place to grieve (the loss of a parent), she was only the child – that the spouse was the one allowed to grieve. I had another friend given a time rule for how long she was allowed to feel sad about the loss of a parent.

Why are we giving out rules?!

The stigma associated with grief and talking about it leads to people bottling up their feelings, pushing them aside and trying to “act normal”. People, especially young people, who experience the loss of a loved one are often expected to “bounce back” quickly. These sorts of expectations lead to ignoring one’s feelings and the creation of mental illness. Parental death more than quadruples the risk of a child or young person developing depression but still as a society we expect people to move past these deaths without “dwelling” on it.

There isn’t much I am trying to do with this blog post than to make people think about how they treat others going through a trauma like the death of a loved one. It is a trauma; the incidence of PTSD in people who have lost a close friend or family member is high. We need to remember that while death is a “normal” part of life it can have a significant and highly detrimental impact that we should be aware of so as to help those who may be struggling.