The loss of a loved one is heartbreaking. In an instant, your world is shattered, and you may feel like your life will never be the same. Mourning a loss is a process — one that can take several months to move through. During that time, it understandably affects your mental health.
You are likely experiencing shock, despair, and anger. You yearn for just one moment more with your loved one. You could even swear you saw them the other day when out walking or had to pause when you picked up the phone to call them. These emotions are all normal when grieving.
Allowing yourself to feel and express these emotions helps you grieve and accept the loss of someone who meant a great deal to you.
When Does Grief Become a Mental Illness?
Grief can affect your mental health when your pain and sadness do not ease over time. Instead, they might worsen, and you might find yourself withdrawn from the people who care about you. Struggling to accept the death of your loved one is also a potential sign that your grief is more than “normal” mourning.
Everyone is different, though. The length and extent of this process will depend on the individual, the type of loss, and the hole it left in your life. Because of individual differences, mental illness stemming from grief can be difficult to identify and diagnose.
Complicated Bereavement Disorder
The mental health community understands how grief can affect mental health. Research into long-term grief began in the 1980s and led to the acknowledgment of complicated bereavement disorder.
Complicated bereavement or grief disorder is chronic grief. Instead of slowly picking up the pieces to your life and putting them back together, they lay on the ground. Your grief worsens in the six months following your loss, and your symptoms do not abate.
The symptoms of complicated grief disorder are extensive:
- Deep sadness or depression.
- Intense focus on your loss.
- Extreme longing for your loved one.
- Difficulty accepting their death.
- Bitter or angry feelings over your loss.
- Constant occupation with your grief.
- Withdrawal or detachment from family, friends and other social activities.
- Difficulty trusting others.
- Trouble maintaining your daily routine.
- Feelings of irritability or agitation.
- Detachment or feelings of numbness.
- Lack of enjoyment or happiness from life.
- Belief that life is without meaning or purpose.
Individuals with a history of depression, anxiety and alcohol or drug abuse are often at an increased risk of developing complicated grief disorder. Those who had a close, emotionally dependent relationship with the deceased are also more prone to chronic grief.
The effects of grief on mental health bring imbalance to daily life. Chronic grief causes mourners to isolate themselves, as they try to keep their loved one alive in their minds and avoid the reality of their loss. In some cases, it can lead to self-harm or self-neglect.
It is challenging as a family or a friend to help someone you love with a mental illness. Having grieved alongside them and progressed with your own grief, you may feel like you need to give them encouragement or push them to accept the loss. What they need during this difficult time though is patience, support and understanding.
Seeking Help for Complicated Grief Disorder
Mental health professionals can offer the help and support you, your family member, or close friend needs to work through their complicated grief disorder symptoms. Seeking and accepting help can be daunting and intimidating, but it is the first step though to regaining your former self — and to helping put the pieces of your life back together.
Professionals often focus on therapy, versus medication, to work through, ease and resolve your ongoing grief.
In severe cases of complicated bereavement disorder, outpatient therapy may not be enough to help a person work through their grief. Brookhaven Retreat is an inpatient mental health treatment center that offers a women-only facility with personalized programs for mental health and addiction issues to help you or your loved one heal.