How Grief Affects Mental Health

Posted in Help for Friends and Family, Help for You

How Grief Affects Mental HealthGrief is a natural psychological response to life experiences like divorce, retirement, illness, job loss, a miscarriage, broken relationships and a loved one’s death. Grief typically needs to run its course, as ignoring the pain can make the situation worse. The Mayo Clinic lists sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue as potential grief reactions, which are often triggered by dates, places and other reminders. Though their experiences are different, most people work through their grief over time. However, grief can also trigger a mental disorder, cause a relapse or develop into an extreme variant known as Complicated Grief.

Mental Health Disorders and Grief

In 2011, the Depression and Anxiety journal described loss as a severe stressor that can incite debilitating grief, but the painful symptoms eventually subside to a reasonable level. For some people, however, the journal noted other possible outcomes, including the following:

  • Grief increases the risk for the onset or acceleration of other mental health disorders
  • The event that caused the grief can complicate the proper diagnosis of a disorder
  • Approximately 10% of people who lose a loved one experience chronic severe grief

The impact of grief on mental health usually varies with the disorder, but several common possibilities exist, including the following:

  • Separation from a loved one through death or divorce intensifies a depressive disorder
  • Grief, which commonly affects eating habits, complicates an eating disorder
  • An anxiety disorder spikes after losing someone who provided critical support
  • Grief related to health problems motivates somatoform disorder symptoms
  • Bitterness caused by grief accelerates symptoms of anti-social personality disorder
  • A person with a substance use disorder relapses on drugs or alcohol to numb the pain

In some cases, the grief and the mental disorder may be related to the same event. For example, a survivor from a fatal car accident may experience both grief and post-traumatic stress disorder. Individuals who attempt to treat grief with substance abuse should also seek drug or alcohol rehab advice.

Prolonged Grief

Grief causing functional impairment for more than six months is clinically referred to as a Prolonged Grief Disorder or Complicated Grief. Several symptoms must be present for a diagnosis, including the following:

  • Difficulties moving on and identifying one’s roll in life
  • Avoidance of loss reminders and an inability to trust others
  • Powerful emotions like angry bitterness or total emotional numbness
  • Ongoing feelings of shock, confusion, emptiness and disbelief

An online Psychology Today article in 2013 notes that substance abuse issues complicate the grieving process and increase the risk for Prolonged Grief Disorders. Furthermore, people who suffer grief may take drugs and alcohol to suppress the symptoms, which can lead to addiction.

Professional Rehabilitation, Grief and Alcohol Rehab Advice

Several overlapping therapies are used to treat mental health disorders, addiction and grief, including the following:

  • Integrated diagnosis and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Psychotherapy for unresolved trauma, unconscious conflicts and abandonment issues
  • Educational therapies to help patients understand their condition or disorder
  • Life skills therapies to promote healthier social and emotional interactions
  • Behavioral therapies to identify and treat maladaptive thought patterns

Rehabilitation centers also encourage healthier ways to cope with grief, which include the following:

  • Join a support group and develop other support structures
  • Learn to face feelings and express them in a tangible way
  • Prepare for anniversaries, holidays and other grief triggers
  • Ignore people who tell you how you are supposed to feel

There are numerous options for getting help, but the first step is asking for it.

Toll-Free Help for Addiction, Grief and Mental Health Issues

Our admissions coordinators can provide help 24 hours a day for addiction, mental health and grief issues. We can answer questions, make recommendations and even check health insurance policies for rehabilitation benefits. Our helpline is toll-free so please call now.