The death of a loved one is one of the most painful and challenging experiences we have to go through on this earth. As the shock wears off, the grief starts to set in.
Grief is the natural reaction to loss.
There are five commonly recognized stages of grief, and going through all of them is normal and healthy. In fact, the only way to truly process and heal from the pain of losing someone you love is to fully experience each of these five stages.
If you find yourself unable to move on from a stage, or are reaching a point of mental or emotional exhaustion that’s making you want to give up, it’s time to take action.
In this article, we’re going to look at the short and long-term effects of grief on mental health, as well as what you can potentially expect to experience in each stage of grief.
Effects of grief on mental health
While many different factors can effect mental health, one of the most prevalent influences is that of trauma. The death of a loved one is often a traumatic experience, and between the trauma of the loss and dealing with the grief on top of it, many people go through a series of stages of grief.
In order, these stages of grief are—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Each of these phases of grief has the potential to adversely affect your mental health in a different way.
In the first stage of denial, grief can affect your mental health by preventing us from accepting the truth (that our loved one has died). This stage is often full of procrastination (or intense distraction) and causes our mental health to suffer because until we are able to accept the truth, we’re unable to move through our grief and into healing.
In anger, the second stage, grief can affect your mental health by suspending you in a state of cynicism and aggression. Which can escalate to other issues, such as the development of a substance use disorder. While anger is a natural motion to experience after someone you love dies, if it isn’t channeled in a healthy way, it can take an exhaustive toll on your mental health.
Within the third stage of bargaining, grief can affect your mental health by causing you to fall too deeply in the memories of the past, what “could have been” or what “should have happened.” This can result in wallowing in feelings of fear, guilt, blame and can lead to self-sabotaging thoughts and behavior.
In the fourth stage, depression, grief has already affected your mental health, as you’re finally allowing your heart and mind to accept your loved one truly is gone. An initial depressive slump is natural as you come to terms with your loss. But, depression that isn’t allowed to move into the final stage of acceptance can manifest in dangerous ways, such as suicidal thoughts and actions.
In the fifth stage of acceptance, your mental health has begun to recover (but it’s up to you to consistently take care of it so that it sustainably rebalances). The pain may or may not be easing yet, but we are finally giving ourselves permission to mourn. In this final stage, it’s important to regularly “check in” with yourself; this can be the beginning of your healing if you tend to your mental health and move through the grief in a healthy way.
Short- and long-term effects of grief
We can also look at the effects of grief by differentiating the short- from the long-term effects of grief on mental health.
Some of the short-term effects of grief include:
- Lack of appetite
- Disinterest in hobbies and social gatherings
- Insomnia or long intervals of sleep
- Sadness, tearfulness, chest pain
- Emotional fluctuations
When someone develops long-term effects from their grief, this is known as a condition called prolonged grief disorder. This is the result of falling deeply within sadness and depression amidst the grieving process, and, rather than embrace the grief as a tool in the healing process, healing was never achieved.
Prolonged grief can affect people in different ways, but it can be dangerous to someone’s physical and mental health. Those who struggle with prolonged grief often deal with sleep and eating disorders, as well as substance abuse, in addition to their mental health that’s already suffering.
Sometimes it’s too overwhelming to face these emotions and thoughts on your own; and that’s exactly why we’re here.
Contact us for personal support
If you or someone you know is struggling to manage their grief in the wake of losing someone, encourage them to send us a message.
Silvermist Recovery is a premier treatment center, committed to helping you navigate and heal from the challenges you’re facing, and get back on the road to well-being.
We offer proven-to-be-effective programs for mental health disorders as well as trauma-focused modalities (grief is encompassed in the realm of trauma), and because each of our treatment plans is client-focused, they are tailored to your specific needs.
With the proper support and guidance, you will survive this grief. It might not feel like it right now, but eventually the pain will lessen, and you’ll be able look back on your memories with joy, and not just sadness. You’ve overcome so much in your life, and this pain, too, shall pass.
Our intake specialists are available 24/7 to help you through this, call our office anytime at 724-268-4858.