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How Grief Can Affect Mental Health: A guide to understanding and coping with grief

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We want to take a moment to explore how grief can effect your mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We want to take a moment to explore how grief can affect your mental health.


What is grief?

Grief is the natural and normal response to losing someone or something that is important to us. Grief can involve a range of emotions, such as sadness, anger, guilt, regret, relief, or numbness. Experiencing grief can also affect our thoughts, behaviors, physical health, and relationships. We need to recognize that grief is not a linear process, but rather a dynamic and individualized one. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and no set timeline for how long it takes.


How can grief affect mental health?

Grief can trigger or worsen mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance use disorders. It can also cause symptoms such as inability to concentrate, feelings of isolation; thoughts of disillusionment and/or intense mood swings. Grief can interfere with our daily functioning, such as work, school, or social activities.


How can we cope with grief and protect our mental health?

It is important to be able to recognize and acknowledge your feelings. Grief is normal and valid, and you have the right to express it in your own way. Robert E. Miller once said, “Grief shared is grief diminished”. It’s okay to seek professional help if you are struggling with your mental health. A therapist, counselor, or support group can provide a safe and confidential space to talk about your loss and offer guidance and resources. Taking care of your physical health and maintaining a regular routine of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and hygiene can be a positive way of navigating your mental health needs. When facing mental health issues, grievers should try to avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope, as they can worsen your mental health and delay your healing. Remember to reach out to your support network that may include family, friends, colleagues, or community members that can also offer you emotional, practical, or spiritual support. You are not alone in your grief, and you don't have to go through it by yourself. Do you best to find healthy ways to remember and honor your loved one or what you lost. You can create a memorial, write a letter, make a donation, or engage in an activity that was meaningful to them or to you.

Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Grief is a complex and personal journey, and it can take time to heal. There is no shame or weakness in asking for help or taking a break. You are doing the best you can.