One often hears the cliche “We are all more alike than we are different.” When we stop to consider the most common of human experiences however, we seldom name Grief as one of the most common. Grief is generally understood by both professionals and lay persons to be a complex and difficult emotional experience that can result in a wide variety of both functional and dysfunctional behaviors, and that can be of uncertain duration. But perhaps the most compelling aspect of grief is that it ubiquitous in the human experience. No one will have a life without loss, and therefore everyone will at some time, and usually several times, grieve the loss of someone or something cherished… something that is a part of our identity, and without which our self-concept is changed, sometimes temporarily and sometimes irrevocably.
The most understood clinical catagory in the grief continuum is Bereavement, diagnosed in relation to the loss of a loved one. This loss is something we all fear, yet all of us accept that it will be a part of our lives. Grief is less understood and less often recognized in that it can have many antecedents. There are many kinds of losses that result in a person feeling grief. Often the depth of the grief is unrecognized by the people around the grieving person simply because some losses seem so commonplace that the impact of the loss on a particular individual is misunderstood. The loss of a marriage or a loved one is easily identified and understood by most people. But different kinds of losses, though noticed, may fade in how we “hold” the person who is suffering. The loss of physical functioning, financial security, health or career can all result in the person grieving invisibly after others have given their condolences and moved on.
Now, at a time when more and more Americans are losing their jobs, we must understand the emotional impact of job loss, and the associated losses such as status, material possessions, work-based relationships, and self-identity. Grieving will be a major part of the psychological life of people who lose their jobs, and recent estimates are that approximately 1.3 million people lost their jobs in 2008, with 50% of those losses coming since July! With more and more companies announcing lay-offs, we have every indication that job loss and the associated loses will be a major contributor to mental distress over the next year or more. Because job loss has a more pervasive impact than might first be recognized, practitioners must be especially alert for signs of deep despair that might lead to suicidal thoughts or acts.
If you have experienced recent job loss, please recognize that grieving the multiple levels of loss from the initial one is an expected part of your healing process, and seek therapy and support early so that problematic symptoms don’t overwhelm you. If you are a practitioner, get more information about grief and the strategies that you can use to assist clients through their grief process. In particular, learn to make the differential diagnosis between Normal Grief, Complicated Grief, the newly identified Prolonged Grief Disorder (not yet officially accepted into the DSM), and Major Depression. Each diagnosis requires knowledgeable and thoughtful assessment and intervention for therapeutic and safety reasons. And remember to enquire about the full range of losses the person is experiencing. The kinds of losses and the resultant grieving most likely will be more extensive and more painful than is evident if you don’t take time to ask, and listen.