Part 3: The Five Stages of Covid-19 Grief

Blog 03 Welcome to Part 3 of the Lockdown Mental Health Series. If you missed Parts 1 and 2, you can find them here: Have you heard of the Five Stages of Grief by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler? Kubler-Ross and Kessler were working with terminally ill patients and found that they seemed to go through five stages of dealing with their terminal illness: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. During the first few weeks of lockdown it became apparent that many of us were following these pattern of grief, after losing our freedom to roam, losing a sense of safety, losing our right to see family and travel, the loss of our daily routine, or monthly payslip or promise of free schooling for our children and much more. So, what does this look like? Some people wouldn’t social distance, and would still meet up to party, or sunbathe in the park in groups, or gather in some other way, still visiting family members and friends, despite the lockdown – they carried on as normal. Or, in other cases, they denied the seriousness of Covid-19 in various ways, like comparing it to the flu, or believe it was less dangerous than driving. These strategies are known as denial – a refusal to believe the truth. Denial functions as a self-protective mechanism. It makes sense. It’s to avoid emotional pain. And who doesn’t want to avoid that if possible? But as things progressed, most people moved away from denial and many of us have experienced anger instead. Anger at the government for not keeping us safe, or doing a better job. Anger at our children for constantly being around. Anger at our partners for not doing enough around the house. Anger at our employers for not acting faster or for letting us go, or not offering us protection. Anger at countries that didn’t act faster or who didn’t warn us in time. Anger also protects us. It’s a way of projecting our uncomfortable emotions on to others instead of looking within to see what’s really going on for us – like being scared, or feeling anxious, or guilty, or embarrassed or hurt. Anger hides a lot of feelings underneath its surface (try looking up the ‘anger iceberg’). Then entered the bargaining stage: “If only I’d…” “I wish I’d….” “If I could go back, I’d…” For some of us it’s smaller things, like, I wish I’d got a hair cut while I could. For others, it’s much bigger, like, I wish I’d visited my grandparents before this happened. Bargaining also keeps us safe. It’s a way to look back instead of focusing on the uncomfortable here-and-now. Who hasn’t experienced some form of depressive mood at some point in life? Feeling low, sad, eating or sleeping in unusual ways, feeling lonely and without energy and more prone to tears? When feeling depressed we’re being honest about what’s going on for us emotionally – and that’s the fourth stage of the grief model. The last stage used by Kubler-Ross and Kessler is acceptance: To come to terms with what is and moving forward from there. Acceptance is very important for our mental health, but, it’s important to know that just because there are these neatly laid out five stages, doesn’t mean that we will go through each of them in an orderly fashion and end up at acceptance with smooth sailings ahead. These five stages will go round and round for some time, and even once we reach acceptance that doesn’t mean we won’t go back and experience some of the other feelings all over again. So, if you, like so many others, have experienced a whole range of different feelings, perhaps you were experiencing grieving over all the losses we’ve faced in a very short amount of time. David Kessler has since added a sixth stage: Meaning making – what is the point of all this? How can I find the meaning behind what has happened? Humans are known to be meaning-seeking beings. I’ll let you ponder on that one for yourself, or you can read more about it here Blog series written by Terese Smith – counsellor, dyslexic and Dyslexia Scotland blogger