Grief Syndrome

Stephen Lesslie

[With a Federal election on 2 July 2016 we felt it appropriate to re-run an article that first appeared in the Largest Remainder in April 2011.]

Grief syndrome or bereavement syndrome is a little known hazard for politicians and political candidates.

A political candidate lives in an unreal world. With the pre-selection sometimes over twelve months before the election, a campaign can be long and arduous but it is also an exciting time for a candidate with campaign meetings, pamphlets and press releases to be drafted, letters to be written, doorknocking and public appearances, and the phone never stops.

A candidate is surrounded by friends and supporters who are equally enthusiastic – good news is lapped up and bad news ignored. Most candidates will suffer from ‘candidate’s disease’ where, no matter how remote the likelihood of actually winning, the candidate comes to believe that they will.

When the candidate loses the election, suddenly it is all over! The phone stops ringing. There is nothing that has to be done and no one to see; the campaign committee disbands and alliances are broken.

If a candidate, or their partner or campaign manager, is going to suffer from grief syndrome this is when it will occur. Not everyone will be affected, but if it occurs symptoms can vary from a mild sense of loss to a chronic and debilitating depression.

It is tragic to see talent wasted and a personality disintegrate, but it can happen if the grief syndrome remains untreated.

Just look at the post parliamentary career of a recent Leader of the Opposition. [This article was written in 2011 but may also explain the more recent actions of some former Prime Ministers. –Ed.] After a lifetime of commitment to his cause suddenly it is all thrown away, culminating in bizarre attacks on former allies and alienation of friends and supporters.

Democracies need candidates, but we must look after the ones that don’t win. If you have a friend who has just lost in this election, look out for them. Explain to them what has happened and why. If you can, encourage them to seek counselling.

Most progressive work places will automatically organise counselling after a work place accident; an election loss should be considered in the same way.

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