Mental Health and Mesothelioma: Stages of Grief

The damaging effects of asbestos exposure don’t only impinge on a person’s physical health. Victims of asbestos-related illnesses suffer psychologically, as well. In this exclusive ongoing series, we’ll shed some light on that other side of terminal illness by examining the impact of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases on mental and emotional health-not just for patients but for their loved ones as well.

Some of the topics we’ll cover include: psychiatric conditions common to victims of mesothelioma cancer and other related conditions, how to share news of a terminal diagnosis with loved ones, coping with grief and loss, types and stages of the bereavement process, self-help techniques for managing mental health during treatment and more.

Mesothelioma and Mental Health-PART THREE

For those affected by mesothelioma, stages of grief are an almost universal experience-although they tend to manifest in different forms and occur on individualized timelines. While today’s researchers often point out that the grieving process can be considerably more multifaceted than any single model can wholly represent, there are specific paradigms that are commonly utilized in grief counseling and palliative care settings as a therapeutic basis.

The Kübler-Ross Model and Modern Interpretations

Most well known in contemporary psychotherapy and medical settings is the Kübler-Rossmodel, which outlines five stages of grief that are typically faced by both those anticipating death (i.e. malignant mesothelioma victims themselves) and those anticipating loss (i.e. family and loved ones of victims).

For anyone facing a terminal cancer like mesothelioma, the stages of grief are considered a virtually collective experience. However, it is important to note that most recent research into grief has revealed the process as being largely non-linear-meaning that although earlier models (like the five stages) may have outlined grief in successive stages, the reality of the experience is much less structured and far more varied in nature.

Some individuals seem to go through the stages of grief in cycles, revisiting previously experienced stages throughout the process. Others may not experience all of the stages at all, or may experience them in an entirely different order than that designated by the five stages model.

The Five Stages

Following are five-commonly experienced by victims of mesothelioma-stages of grief, as defined within the well-known Kübler-Rossmodel. Together, they form the acronym DABDA-frequently used in medical and therapeutic settings such as mesothelioma cancer support groups and hospice care facilities.

  • Denial-the rejection or suppression of a painful reality (common concurring reactions include shock and isolation)
  • Anger-characterized by irrational blame or rage, often directed at one or more targets (such as a diagnosing physician or a higher power); typical reactions include “why me?” and “it isn’t fair”
  • Bargaining-defined as displaced hope, an attempt to avoid the anticipated event/loss by making negotiations or deals with one’s higher power (perhaps offering, in exchange for survival and regained health, a reformative lifestyle or major personal sacrifice)
  • Depression-typically accompanied by a movement towards acceptance of the finality of one’s situation, often characterized by feelings of surrender, hopelessness, worry and fear
  • Acceptance-signifies the commencement of the coping process and one’s ability to “come to terms” with a tragic reality, typically characterized by feelings of calmness or even serenity and may accompany some type of “spiritual awakening” or moral realization; reaching this stage takes time (not always attainable such as in cases of sudden or unexpected death loss)
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