Stages of loss when diagnosed with a mental illness


October marks mental health awareness month in South Africa.

It also is about a year ago that I shared my struggle with Post Partum Depression, yes after more than 2 years, I decided to share my story. If you haven’t read it yet you can read it here.

I was diagnosed with major depression with my PND and anxiety. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my diagnosis.

There are five stages of loss when you lose a loved one. (It’s also known as the Kübler-Ross model.) This model can be applied to patients diagnosed with a terminal illness but also more recent studies found that this model can also be applied to any loss a person suffers in his/her lifetime.

The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance. These stages do not necessarily happen in this order and it is also possible to experience them all at once. There is no specified timeline for each stage and each person will deal with each stage differently.

So why the stages? What can this possibly have to do with mental health?

A lot actually. A diagnosis for a mental condition brings about an array of feelings. But most important is that this thing that’s been haunting you gets a name and the person you thought you knew is gone forever.

Here is a brief description of the stages of loss that I went through to come to terms with my diagnosis.

Firstly there was denial.

There had to be a mistake.  My brain was fine, I’ve always felt the way I feel, I just had these intrusive thoughts that I didn’t know what to do with.

This, in turn, led to anger.

What was wrong with me? How could my brain be faulty? I didn’t even know if I believed in all this psychiatry “stuff”. Why me?


So all I’d have to do take the meds and after a while, I’ll be fine. That’s it, easy.

The fourth stage is depression.

This was the stage that snuck up on me and decided to play house for a while. It might have been 6 months, maybe shorter, hell for all I know even longer. It was mostly a grey blur of being extremely tired. I would wake up tired, manage to pull myself together enough to go to work for a few hours just to come home and sleep again. Afternoon naps would be 3 sometimes 4 hours long after which I would awaken just to fall asleep with Mila again. I was just going through the motions trying to create the illusion that I had it under control but I knew I was losing my grip.

Acceptance is that point where you realise “Maybe I am actually sick, maybe there really is something wrong with me.” Then it feels like there’s a light and a weight is lifted from your shoulders. You come to a crossroad where your journey makes sense, you realise that this is your reality

To accept things, move on and get better, though, you need intuition to realise you’re sick. You need fear to motivate you to conquer it. Most of all you need hope that one-day things will get better.

It starts slow, you start to take little bits of daily routine and mindfully interact. Slowly these experiences start accumulating and you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You start to feel a lot better about yourself. In time you’ll realise that your illness is manageable. You will realise that this diagnosis doesn’t define you.


If you or anyone you know are experiencing any Post Partum Depression symptoms please contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on 011 234 4837



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