Grief, loss and the “normalization” of mental health
It’s good to talk, and it’s good that we talk more about sanity, especially when loss is all around us. People have lost their jobs, their friends, their freedom, their experiences and their loved ones. The loss is inevitable but amplified by the prism of Covid-19. Loss, when and how it happens, affects us all in different ways.
I lost my father during the pandemic. It was a deep and traumatic mourning. As a result, my mother sells the family home, which is a less traumatic loss but still emotionally difficult. These incidents made me think again about how we deal with mental health and, in particular, depression. This is especially relevant with people like Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey defending and trying to “normalize” the consequences of a loss.
For some people, a house is brick and mortar, and when it comes time to sell, the decision is strictly transactional. For others, like me, it’s a huge emotional tear. The loss should cause grief; depression is part of the grieving process; if it becomes crippling and you can’t get back to a more balanced state, that’s a problem.
But what does it mean to be depressed, a term we casually throw around? Sanity is like the sea, and sometimes you capsize. I was deeply shocked by the death of my father and later depressed. Now, with the sale of the house, I’m sad to close a chapter and start a new one. Feeling depressed or sad is an integral part of life. I felt sad, which is to be expected. It would be wrong not to feel sad about the house or depressed about my father.
I started to think more about this when I saw Oprah on TV claiming that she and Harry would ‘normalize’ each other. Mental Health. As my father was a psychiatrist, mental health always seemed quite normal tome. Should we standardize? And, what is “normal” anyway?
Moreover, what do we mean by mental health, which we talk about without defining it? The loss of my father made me depressed. We cannot always be happy, and loss should cause sorrow. Even the loss of our home makes me sad. It’s normal. But never to be sad would be abnormal. So there are mental health issues that are “normal”.
Mental health covers a wide spectrum from sadness, which is normal, to schizophrenia and other conditions that need to be treated by professionals. By getting caught up in the hype, we are denigrating the seriousness of true mental illness. Mental health is a large and very complex field of medicine. We can’t simplify it or fit a whole body of medicine into sound bites.
We’re talking about mental health, and part of it is a really debilitating chronic illness. Certain altered mental states, such as situational depression, are a normal reaction. Often we can grow and learn. It always takes time and sometimes support.
It’s confusing that Harry couldn’t get help from Meghan while she was suicidal. Is it hard to call the Samaritans or for someone as connected as Harry to find help? With royal relations with professional psychiatry, he could have quickly resolved the problem. And just as strange that Oprah never explained why that was the case in her famous interview with Harry and his wife.
Recognizing the importance of mental health is extremely important, at the very least, so that people are not stigmatized. For some, however, this is and will remain a private matter. Grief, grief and loss are traumatic; not everyone wants to share them, especially not in public. Harry and Oprah might be good champions, but raising awareness is different than saying they’re going to fix it. The bulk of the work doesn’t rest with royalty – not even the TV genre – but with professionals. Otherwise, talking about mental health is not courageous or even helpful. It’s just entertainment.
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