Dealing With Grief, a Very Real Fear

April 9, 2020
Michael R. Mantell, PhD

Mental health professionals charged with compassionate care for those facing a radically changing world filled with loss have one narrow task.

CORONAVIRUS CHRONICLES

-Series Editor: H. Steven Moffic, MD

“But Daddy, what’s going to happen to me if you or Mommy get sick with this bad disease that everyone’s talking about?” This came out of the mouth of a 9-year-old overhearing the latest fear-based media commentary. Anticipatory grief is a form of dealing with loss before it happens, and complicated grief brings intense, persistent, and debilitating anguish for months following actual loss. These are becoming all too common in this time of COVID-19.

Thomas á Kempis, a German-Dutch canon observed a healthy type of grief as dealing with the “proper sorrows of the soul.”1 Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, an early Hassidic master, noted, “There are two kinds of sorrow . . . When a person broods over the misfortunes that have come upon him, when he cowers in a corner and despairs of help-that is a bad kind of sorrow. The other kind is the honest grief of a person who knows what he lacks.”2

Mental health professionals charged with compassionate care for those facing a radically changing world filled with loss have one narrow task. Helping those in emotional pain experience the control that flows from healthily airing anguish, staying focused on the here and now, and acquiring acceptance of the “proper sorrows of the soul.” These are the powerful therapeutic tools in today’s enlightened psychiatric doctor’s black bag.

Disclosures:

Dr Mantell earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. He has served as Chief Psychologist for Children’s Hospital of San Diego, the San Diego Police Department, and as Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSD Medical School.

References:

1. Pies RW. Depression or “Proper Sorrows”-Have Physicians Medicalized Sadness? Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2009;11(1): 38–39.

2. Lou C. Thoughts for Bein Ha’Mitzarim (Within the Straits) – The Three Weeks. His Israel. July 20, 2016. https://his-israel.com/2016/07/20/thoughts-for-bein-hamitzarim-within-the-straits-the-three-weeks. Accessed April 9, 2020.