CEO Update from Mental Health Australia: Public and private grief

Orchestra members

Public and private grief

Do you remember that episode of the US TV fictional drama the “West Wing” when one of the well-known public characters, Josh is shot and in the immediately-held press conference a brief update on his well-being is provided to a packed press gallery. Then CJ (the press secretary) proceeds to talk about a range of (also fictional) shooting victims who were not well-known people, and in doing so she makes a very poignant statement about the in/discriminate nature of gun violence but also about the sometimes weird media focus on well-known figures.

How do we make sense of the public response to the passing of well-known people from our global community? Perhaps there is a grief process that is triggered by such events even when we did not know these people personally.

The recent deaths of Queen Elizabeth II and Uncle Jack Charles have received important and appropriate public acknowledgement. Along with other public figures who have also passed away in 2022 (such as Archie Roach; Olivia Newton John; Judith Durham; Mikhail Gorbachev; Paul Green; Shane Warne; Shinzo Abe) there has been broad public reflection on their lives, contributions, legacies. At Mental Health Australia we join in acknowledging each of these significant fellow travelers.

We want to also acknowledge those who are not famous or well-known who have passed away this year and left behind grieving families and friends. And, what about those whose deaths are not noticed, or those that impact on a small private family group? For example, we see that 14,421* people have sadly died from COVID 19 since the beginning of the pandemic – that’s a lot of grieving families.

Speaking from my own experience, grief is unpredictable and can be triggered in unexpected moments.

How we deal with our grief - individually and collectively - always impacts our mental, and physical, health. I’m mindful of that saying, “You never know what someone else is in the middle of”. 

As we approach World Mental Health Day on 10 October, I am reflecting on the importance of the key messages for our upcoming “Look after your mental health, Australia” campaign: Awareness, Belonging and Connection. 

Now is the time to take care of ourselves and each other. Now is the time to do those things each day that you know rejuvenate your wellbeing and build your strength and your capacity to support others.

Reach out for trusted support. Connect. Go gently.…

Accessed  16/09/2022

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