Men and grief
Everyone’s grief is unique, but we sometimes find that men and women react differently when someone dies, and that men's health can be particularly affected.
We can all be deeply affected by grief but we have found that men may experience it in different ways to women. At Cruse we offer help to everyone, whatever their experience of grief or however long it is since the person died. But we find that men are much less likely to seek our help.
This can be, in part, due to not realising what they are feeling is related to their bereavement. This is also true for women but more so with men. That persistent headache, increased irritability or inability to concentrate at work can all be due to grief.
We have to be careful making assumptions, because everyone is different. Lots of men and women do not fit society’s expectations of how we grieve. But there is research evidence which backs up some of the common ways we see men grieving.
I do my crying in private at home alone or in the car before going to work or while I am out walking. I am tight lipped and do not talk openly about how I feel. Help is all around but I do not seek it. In my work I help others and I refuse to think about my own needs.
How men grieve
- Men may be less likely to talk to others about how they are feeling.
- Men may be less likely to express emotions, with anger being a possible exception.
- Many men can feel a pressure to be strong and silent, and to be in charge and solve problems.
- Men may throw themselves into ‘distracting behaviours’ – work, practical tasks, or even a new relationship.
- Some men turn to alcohol, drugs or risk-taking to help them cope or mask their feelings.
- Some may find that their grief shows up in physical symptoms.
- And very sadly, grieving men are also more likely to be at risk of dying themselves including being more at risk of suicide.
Grief and men’s health
Grief can have a number of effects on men’s physical and mental health
- You may lose your appetite.
- You may be very vulnerable to physical illnesses after a bereavement.
- You many have difficulty sleeping, or feel exhausted all the time.
- You may feel mentally drained and unable to think straight.
- You can have a host of other symptoms such as chest pains, breathlessness, headaches, minor infections, dry mouth, hair loss, weak muscles, tensions, stomach problems, and skin rashes.
These are normal reactions to distress and loss, often pass in time. But do consult your GP if the problems persist. Men can be reluctant to get checked out, but you need to look after yourself at this difficult time.
It’s really important to seek help if you find that you don’t want to carry on, and particularly if you have thoughts of ending your own life.
What can help
When dealing with grief most people switch between two modes of coping. On one side are things which focus on the loss – talking to people about how you feel, remembering the person who died, and allowing yourself to cry or feel your emotions. On the other side are practical activities aimed at restoring your life, including working and dealing with practical issues.
It can help to think about creating a balance and making sure you are spending time on both sides. Many men struggle with more loss-focussed activities. If you are not ready to talk to friends or family, you could try writing a journal or other ways of thinking about the person you have lost. Perhaps listen to some of their favourite music or do something which helps you remember them.
Exercise and other activities can also be very helpful when you are grieving. It might sound simple but even getting out for some fresh air and walk (if you are able) has been shown to help.
If you’re worried about a man in your life
Grief can bring people together but it can also do the opposite. It can be difficult to understand that not everyone grieves in the same way, and that everyone needs to find their own way.
If you are worried about a bereaved man, then make sure he knows that you are available to talk. But pressuring someone to share when then are not ready or implying that there is a correct way to grieve may not help. If he is finding it difficult to talk to you or to other family or friends you could suggest he talks to Cruse, or to his GP or another health professional.
I don’t talk to my wife because I fear stepping on a bloody landmine. Saying the wrong thing. Because we do feel differently in our grief it’s very difficult, and I’m very conscious that I might get something badly wrong.
When I lost my fiance 15 years ago I saw my Doctor who just said get on with it. I told my parents who then got me a different doctor. I wasn't doing well at all. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card, and said give them a call. Cruse's number was on this card - I never looked back.