Author: Allison Seigler
This week, Stuff You Should Know’s SYSK Selects episode featured grief. Every week, the podcast re-releases a very old episode. This episode on grief, specifically western human grief, was made in 2013. The show opened with a discussion of grief in animals and a story about an elephant at a zoo in India who died of grief when her elephant friend died in childbirth. Scientists’ opinions on whether or not other animals grieve are actually pretty split. Scientists who think other animals do grieve point to animal patterns of behavior that are similar to human displays of grief. Scientists who think other animals don’t grieve point out that we humans may want other animals to grieve just like us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that animals actually grieve like us. They believe we are making judgments about animal behavior based on what we want to be true. Some animals, like chimpanzees, don’t show signs of grief at all. Does this prove that animals don’t grieve, or does it not prove anything, since there is high variability in the ways humans grieve as well?
The show’s hosts detailed the three different types of grief. Anticipatory grief is grief that you know is going to occur and have some amount of time to prepare for. For example, if a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, you know for some time before it happens that this person is going to pass away soon. Anticipatory grief can be easier for some people, since you have time to come to terms with what is going on before it happens. Unanticipated grief comes on suddenly when something happens unexpectedly. Ambiguous grief, which the hosts argue is the worst type of grief, is grief over an event in which there is no way to get closure. For example, if someone you know suddenly goes missing and is never found again, it can be hard to find a source of closure.
The hosts continued to talk about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They didn’t spend much time talking about denial, anger, bargaining, or acceptance, but they did spend some time talking about the weirdness of depression as a stage of grief. Grief is not categorized as a mental illness (yet), but depression is. So how do we categorize grief-related depression? Is someone who is depressed because of grief mentally ill? Or are they just experiencing grief? This question becomes important when treating grief-related depression. Should medical professionals prescribe antidepressants to people going through grief? Most depressive episodes that are tied to grief are over in six to eighteen months. After that, the person is able to begin moving on with their life. However, that does not mean that those six to eighteen months are not difficult for the person going through grief-related depression. These questions of medicating grief-related depression and categorizing grief as a mental illness have yet to find a definitive answer among the medical community.
I like Stuff You Should Know podcasts because they always teach me about random subjects that I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. This episode on grief, while kind of sad because of the subject, was very informative and interesting. If you’re someone who likes knowing generic things about random subjects, then I would recommend this episode and this podcast.