In our society, males generally have a much more difficult time during any bereavement period. They have been conditioned by a lifetime of restrictive customs and cultural mores. And they are disciplined that it is not manly to cry, even in private. Fortunately, insight is improving into this unwise controlling of natural behavior. More men than ever before are now participating in support groups and chat rooms.
Too often, the “macho” image has to be presented, while their hearts are secretly breaking. In Western cultures, even men who have gone through training in “consciousness raising” tend to revert to their instinctive tendencies to maintain their traditional masculine image. It can be a very tough fight within one’s self. Men are not supposed to cry or get too emotionally upset. It just doesn’t fit the accepted image. Of course, that is nonsense and very self-defeating. As mentioned earlier, the consequences of suppressing these intense feelings can surface later in many personally damaging ways.
It is interesting to note that, although the population of male and female pet owners is about equal, far more women acknowledge their emotional need for support or even counselling. Men will keep their passionate feelings hidden as much as possible. With little means for venting their grief, they tend to find some solace by reading about the subject or observing and privately identifying with others who are grieving. That activity is safe and secret and does not reveal their perceived emotional “weakness” to anyone. Fortunately, the rapidly increasing public awareness of pet bereavement is making the male’s expression of emotional distress a bit easier and more natural. But it still takes a lot more soul-searching for men in our culture to openly grieve as they truly need to.
Ours is an age of beginning enlightenment on many levels, as never before in history. Men are now letting go and increasing their communications with counselors and other bereavers. And that is helping remake the old stereotype.
Depression is a very general term, and it can mean so many things. Here it refers to a classic stage that we must go through during bereavement. But it is also a normal human response that can be produced by any particularly stressful circumstances. Intense bereavement produces a whole spectrum of powerful emotions and psychological responses. So it is a natural reaction to feel overwhelmed and depressed at this time. Indeed, there would be something very wrong if we did not react this way. We are normally depressed at the loss of anything we hold dear.
This includes our habits, patterns of behaviour, and even our possessions. If a torn coat, an unfavourable report, a smashed-up bike, or a dented car can depress us, certainly the loss of a beloved pet will do a lot more.
People who are prone to depression are at an even greater risk of being wiped out, emotionally, when a beloved pet dies. They need to address this and see their therapist right away. Unfortunately, not all psychotherapists are good at counseling in pet bereavement as well. It may be necessary for the mourner to see a pet loss counselor at the same time. And it is important to share with the counselor what has been learned with the therapist. Frequently, antidepressants are needed and helpful during this critical time. But it is important to realize that they don’t help the grief. All they can do is to make the patient less depressed and, hopefully, more receptive to working through the therapy.