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The Psychology Of Dying

The American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed a five-stage model of the psychology of dying and grief. In her book titled On Death and Dying (1969), she proposed that in response to the awareness of their impending death, individuals move through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Other authorities note that these stages do not occur in any predictable order, and feelings of hope, anguish, and terror may also be included in the range of emotions experienced.

Bereaved families and friends also go through stages from denial to acceptance. Grief can begin before a loved one has died, and this anticipatory grief helps lessen later distress. During the next stage of grief, after the death of the loved one, mourners are likely to cry, have trouble sleeping, and lose their appetite. Some feel alarmed, angry, or wounded by being left behind. After formal services for the deceased are over and conventional forms of social support end, depression and loneliness often occur.

Feelings of guilt are quite common, and in some cases individuals think seriously about taking their own life for somehow failing the loved one. This is especially true in response to the loss of a child. Though people often talk about healthy and unhealthy grief, it is very difficult to measure emotional pain in any precise way or advise how long one's grief should last. Many clinicians believe that those who abandon their grief prematurely are living in denial and make healing more difficult; but, on the other hand, it is also possible to become mired in despair. The death of a loved one, thus, threatens to take all the life out of the person who feels left behind.

Research on attitudes toward death and anxiety about death has been conducted mostly by social scientists around the world. There are more than one thousand published studies in this area, and four broad themes emerge from the findings:

  1. Most people think about death to some extent and report some fear of death, but only a small percentage exhibit a strong preoccupation with death or fear of death.
  2. Women consistently report more fear of death than men, but the difference in levels of fear is typically minor to moderate from study to study.
  3. Fear of death does not increase with age among most people.
  4. When considering their own death, people are more concerned about potential pain, helplessness, dependency, and the well-being of loved ones than with their own demise.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cyanohydrins to Departments of philosophy:Death - Defining Death, Bereavement, Grief, And Mourning, Why Must People Die?, Historical Perspectives