Letting go after tragedy

It was her fourth wedding anniversary and Helen from Chirimba Township in Blantyre had just spoken to her husband confirming their dinner plans.

But as she arrived home from work, she got a phone call that her husband had died in an accident.

For days afterward, Helen was hysterical. She cried nonstop. Days turned to weeks, which turned to months of anguish.

“I could not believe my life partner was gone,” she says.

It is undeniable that some people become stuck in emotional quicksand after the death of a spouse or child; they are unable to adjust, to function or to put their lives back together.

“I could not get past it,” Helen says, five years after her husband’s death. “In my mind I kept replaying past moments with my late husband.”

In April this year, the Duke of Cambridge Prince William spoke out about the shock he still feels 20 years after his mother, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris.

Prince William, who was 15 when his mother died, was quoted in The Independent newspaper, saying the loss of his mother was “such an unbelievably big moment”, adding: “the shock never leaves you”.

Zomba Mental Hospital Spokesperson Harry Kawiya argues that the usual life stresses may cause depressive symptoms and may even cause some minor functional impairment, but says this is not clinical depression.

“Someone who is grieving will have negative feelings. Depression is a description of a mental disorder; it is a medical disorder.

“Common causes of grief may include loss of loved ones; loss of a pregnancy, especially if the woman has been wishing to get pregnant for a long time and even loss of body parts,” says Kawiya.

He notes that some people can grieve for six months while others can take up to two years.

The psychologist observes that the closeness or the kind of relationship one had with someone they have lost is one of the reasons people grieve for a long time.

“One might also have faulty or irrational thinking that things will never be the same without the person they lost,” he observes.

However, when grieving, individuals show irritable mood; have difficulties falling asleep or a reduced interest in the usual things, then that person can be considered depressed.

He says other signs of depression are poor concentration, loss of appetite and interest in fun activities among others.

Kawiya warns against bad coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking and keeping things to oneself when grieving.

But he argues that it is best to let people grieve so that grieving does not progress into clinical depression.

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