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How grief can affect our mental health

Blog posted by: , 06 October 2021 – Categories: Uncategorized.

Chris Murray and Cooper

Birmingham, July 2018. I was on Mental Health First Aid Instructor training, approaching a break when my Dad rang. I knew something wasn’t right because it’s unusual for my family to ring during work hours unless it’s urgent. I took the call. My Dad said it was my Grandma…

Grandma had been in hospital for a few weeks and I’d travelled home to see her in June. She was in good spirits, and medical staff said she was improving, so I was hopeful she’d soon be back home on my return, so we could see each other.

Life support

What Dad told me wasn’t good news. Grandma had taken a turn for the worse and been placed on life support. He said I needed to rush home to say my goodbyes. Naturally, I felt distraught.

Somehow, I steeled myself, gathered my belongings and travelled back to Middlesbrough. It felt like the longest journey of my life – and I’ve travelled around the world.

Chris Murray, DWP

Chris Murray, DWP

That evening, I was picked up from the station and driven straight to hospital. As we entered the hospital, I started to feel sick. I will always remember the two sets of double doors before the private room where the nurses had moved my Grandma. I felt my heart racing, conscious that I was feeling unsteady as if I might faint. 

As I approached the ward, I had a panic attack. The overwhelming fear and pain was unbearable, knowing that once I went through those doors, it would be the last time I got to spend time with my Grandma. Even though she was unconscious on a life support machine, I didn’t want to face it.

My sister comforted me and helped me focus. I sat at Grandma’s bedside for a couple of hours, held her hand and talked to her. That took a lot of composure and I tried to reign in my emotions, desperate to not trigger everyone else again. 


The next morning, I was woken by my dad telling me Grandma had passed away. I expected the news, but it didn’t make the blow any easier. The loss of my Grandma, who I was very close to, was difficult to deal with and I struggled to find a purpose or reason to motivate myself. 

The next day was my birthday, but it no longer held any importance. My sister arrived with my young nieces and nephew, bringing birthday cards and presents. There was a pile of cards to open – but I couldn’t summon up any interest. I had to get out of bed for my nephew and nieces as they didn’t understand, and were desperate for me to open the presents. Trying to smile for them and not get upset was extremely difficult. My mum handed me one of the birthday cards. It was from my Grandma. 

Logo for World Mental Health DayMental health

During this period, I started to struggle more with my mental health at the loss of a close family member and, as it often does, it made me reflect about the point of life, and how to deal with pain when you lose someone you cherish. What is my purpose? 

I was feeling pressure from all directions as I struggled to come to terms with my loss. I reflected that I didn’t achieve enough and maybe I didn’t see my family enough. All the time, I experienced futile thoughts and feelings that I could and should have done more. It exacerbated my clinical depression, anxiety and OCD conditions, and I felt little value in anything I did for some time. 

The help and support of medical professionals and spending time with family and friends helped me get through a very tough period and I started to focus on my wellbeing. 

Supporting others

I find working as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor rewarding, and supporting others to become trained MHFAs makes a real difference, expanding the vital support network available to all civil servants.

Adam Land: I want to thank Chris for sharing his story. Chris said,  “Sharing my story with others helped me feel like I had a purpose and what I was doing was important and by helping others, I was helping myself.”

CSHR has produced a series of resources, including a Guide for Managers to help support staff through Bereavement and Loss

These are hosted on the Learning Platform for Government

Mental Health First Aiders

We have Mental Health First Aiders in most units in the Civil Service.  If you can’t find one in your unit, please don’t hesitate to contact one in a nearby unit.

  • Look out for departmental First Aid notices
  • The Mental Health First Aider tables on your departmental intranet will list all Mental Health First Aiders.


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