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Can Grief and Loss Lead to Mental Illness?
Experiencing the loss of a loved one can be traumatic and truly heartbreaking. The mourning process can be confusing and you may feel that your life will never be the same.
Eventually most people are able to accept the loss and start living a normal life again. The journey to this point of acceptance is different for everyone and some people may take longer to get there than others. Along the way, most people will begin to feel the effects of grief on mental health, but some people will experience symptoms that are much more severe than others.
The Mental Effects of GriefGrief is different for everyone, but most people would agree that dealing with loss can take a toll on your mental health. Feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, and hopeless are all common emotions that people experience during the grieving process. These emotions can vary in severity, but for some people, they may be overwhelming.
Grief is typically an emotional rollercoaster, but sometimes this chronic grief can develop into a mental health disorder.
Some common symptoms of chronic grief include:
- Prolonged sadness on a daily basis
- Extreme focus on the loss
- Neglecting daily responsibilities because of depression
- No motivation to interact with people or attend social events
- Detachment from your friends and family
- Difficulty accepting the loss after ample time has passed
- Intense emotions such as anger and pain towards the loss
In some cases, grief may even lead to a state of depression. A longitudinal study found that 1 month after people were widowed, 40% of these people meet criteria for a major depression episode, but most researchers argue that this amount of time is not long enough to diagnose depression. Thankfully, this depression caused by grief decreased over time, and after one year, only 15% of this population met the criteria for major depression.1
Depression isn’t the only connection between grief and mental illness. In rare cases, grief can cause psychosis or the development of psychotic symptoms. Research on the connection between bereavement and mental health disorders involving psychosis suggest that grief triggers the onset of these symptoms because of any underlying disorder, but research still needs to be done for a clearer answer.1
The mental effects of grief can negatively impact a person’s actions and behaviors as well. When people are struggling and neglect to get mental health or depression treatment, they may engage in dangerous or more risky behavior than normal. For some people, this may mean self-harm or suicidal actions. For other people, this may mean regularly turning to substances like drugs or illicit drugs to help them cope with their grief. Over time, this behavior can become habitual and an addiction may occur. At this point, these people should look for a dual diagnosis treatment center to address both problems as the same time.
Why Is Grief Affecting Your Mental Health so Drastically?While grief will impact your mental health in some way, typically, as time passes, an individual will be able to accept the loss and move on with their life. Someone who is dealing with chronic grief will experience increased pain over time and may develop a mental illness.
Grief is a natural part of the healing process, but when someone develops a mental illness because of it, this may happen for several reasons including:
- Underlying mental health disorder that is exacerbated by grief
- Genetic predisposition to mental illness
- Problems coping with grief in a healthy manner
- Substance abuse
- Brain changes that make it harder for some people to let go2
Dealing with the Mental Effects of GriefEveryone deals with grief and loss in their own way. Allowing yourself to take the time to grieve is important and accepting the loss of your loved one can come at different stages for different people.
Although it can be difficult to admit, if you are struggling to move past your grief, you should get professional help. Likewise, if you feel that your loved one has had an exceptionally difficult time grieving a loss, you should encourage them to go to a mental health facility for treatment.
At Banyan Mental Health in Boca, we help people regain control of their lives. For more information on how we may be able to help you or a loved one, call 888-280-4763.
- Psychiatric Times - Bereavement-Related Depression
- Scientific American - Shades of Grief: When Does Mourning Become a Mental Illness?