Letting go of someone you love can be one of the most painful, challenging, stressful things we, as people, have to experience in this lifetime. Bereavement literally means to “be deprived by death” — it’s a powerful experience, one that often takes a significant toll on our mental health.
Mourning is a natural part of grief, and an important phase of healing, but, as overwhelming as it can feel, mourning is not something that should last forever. If we allow ourselves to wallow too deeply and too long in a state of sadness, it can begin to incapacitate other areas of our lives.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look into the effects of grief on your mental health, so that you (or someone you know) can take better care of themselves during this difficult time.
Grief is the natural reaction to loss. We may all grieve differently, but grief is something we all experience at one time or another due to the natural cycles of life on this earth.
While there are universally understood phases of grief, the expressions of mourning in each of these phases is very personal. Where some may get angry, others will descend into sadness; some people might find themselves unable to sleep, while others remain in bed for days.
There is no one way to grieve, and there is no timeframe for it; healing arrives at its own pace, and grief leaves only when it has been invited in, accepted and then released.
The five stages of grief
There are five commonly recognized stages of grief, each of which has its own ups and downs, and each of which will impact your mental health in its own way, and according to your “style.”
In order, the five stages of grief are—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are our way of attempting to process what has happened, as well as protect our hearts from the inevitable new reality we will have to adjust to.
Denial is the first stage, and it’s often full of avoidance, procrastination and mindless “busy” behavior. Some people may question their sanity in this stage, believing that they saw their loved one on a street, or that they can hear, feel or see them in a room. Experiences like these prevent us from accepting the truth — that our loved one is, in fact, dead — and when we deny the truth, our mental health suffers because it can no longer distinguish reality from imagination.
Anger, the second stage, is a natural emotion to experience when someone you love dies, especially if it appears there was no rhyme or reason to cause their death. This stage can look like cynicism, direct or passive aggressiveness, increased substance use and feeling out of control. Anger can take a real toll on your mental health if it isn’t managed properly, including manifesting symptoms such as chronic headaches and an overall negative view of the world.
Bargaining is when people can wallow too deeply in the past and what “could have been.” In this third stage, especially if they believe their loved one’s death could have been prevented (such as in the case of suicide or overdose), they start ruminating on what they could’ve or should’ve done better. This stage that is often full of guilt, fear and blame, when left unchecked, can lead their mental health to develop very harmful short- and long-term thinking patterns.
Depression is the fourth stage; many people allow themselves to become trapped here and never move onto acceptance, which is the next necessary phase in order to let the healing begin. When someone is in the grieving stage of depression, they might experience a significant reduction in their energy, appetite, social interest and motivation. Depression that is left untreated is known to spiral into a variety of mental health conditions, including suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Acceptance is the final stage of grief. This is where we start to make our peace with what has happened; whether or not the pain has begun to ease at this point, we know it will eventually. We know that while we may never fully “get over” the death of a loved one, we can continue to love and honor them through living our lives to the fullest, as they’d want us to.
Reach out for professional support
If you or someone you know has recently experienced the death of a friend or family member, send us a message.
Our compassionate team at Tapestry is committed to helping you prepare for and go through any and all stages of grief, as well as support you in the aftermath and beyond.
We offer high-quality mental health services for adults and adolescents, and because we believe in the treatment of a person as a whole (as opposed to focusing on one specific issue), we will tailor your treatment plan to perfectly match your specific needs and preferences.
With the proper support, patience and effort, you will survive this grief. The pain will lessen (even if it never fully dissipates), and you will be able to reflect on the life of your friend or family member with joy, and not just sadness. This pain, too, shall pass.
To speak with one of our qualified staff members and learn more about how we can help you take care of your mental health during this difficult time, call us today at 828-490-4032.