16 signs your grief is becoming a mental illness

Grief is a normal reaction to loss and isn’t time-bound. As you navigate loss and start to make sense of things, the emotions start to become less intense over time.

Normal grief

At some stage in the journey, normal grief involves a sense of acceptance and that you are finally able to adjust to a new norm. There’s an acknowledgement that life beyond loss exists. It’s also perfectly normal to reflect on loss, the circumstances surrounding loss, and any changes as a result of that loss.

Complicated grief

However, those who continue to feel prolonged trauma and find themselves obsessing over their loss may need to consider psychological intervention. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), this is known as ‘complicated grief’.

In short, complicated grief becomes pathological when the emotions are so severe and long-lasting that you have difficulty in healing from loss and moving forward in your own life without treatment.

Complicated grief isn’t the same as depression. People with complicated grief are usually able to experience positive feelings but may also feel overwhelming waves of other emotions that they are unable to regulate. You may seek to avoid grief altogether, or escape your reality in a dissociated way. When left untreated, complicated grief can also lead to further mental health illness such as clinical depression and severe anxiety – this is my own personal experience. 

Signs of complicated grief

Signs of complicated grief linger and worsen over time. It is like being in a continuous state of mourning that prevents you from healing.

Everybody deserves to find peace with their loss so it’s important to pay attention to any un-resourceful patterns of thinking and behaviour that you’re developing. It’s always better to ask for help than to suffer in silence.

16 signs your grief may be becoming a problem

  • If you already have a mental illness, such as an anxiety disorder or depression, you could be more at risk of developing complicated grief.
  • You believe you are to blame or could have prevented your loss.
  • You feel deep sadness, guilt, shame or depression.
  • You can focus on nothing but your loss and find no enjoyment in life.
  • You’re having difficulty in trusting others.
  • You have a persistent pining or longing for your loved one.
  • You have isolated yourself, feel disconnected from others, or have withdrawn from the world/your friends and family.
  • You feel unable to talk about your grieving and feel emotionally detached.
  • You are avoiding your grief altogether and are unable to accept what’s happened.  
  • You take your grief out on others, feeling bitter and angry about your loss.
  • You have thoughts about wanting to join a deceased loved one, or not wanting to ‘be here’ anymore and be with them instead.
  • You feel unable to perform basic tasks and routines, such as getting out of bed and getting dressed.
  • You have continuous racing thoughts about your loss, flashbacks, and are unable to take a break from those thoughts and images.
  • You’ve stopped eating.
  • You find that life holds no meaning.
  • You are reliant on drugs or alcohol to get through the day or to sleep at night.

Coping with grief

Talking about your emotions and allowing yourself to experience the pain can help you move through the grief and into the healing process. Seeking help as soon as possible after loss may help to prevent complicated grief. It’s also a good idea to seek support from family members, friends, and support groups to help you work through your grief.

If you recognise that your grief is becoming complicated, please know that help is available and you can recover from this. Start by talking to your GP. You can also investigate coaching via the Life Coach Directory, or counselling may be better for you.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Louise Creswick

Louise is a Grief and Loss Coach who helps people to rebuild life after loss. Grief and loss coaching can help you to adjust to life after loss, as well as build resilience for the future. Louise's coaching services are focused on helping people to heal from loss and rebuild their life in a meaningful way.… Read more

Written by Louise Creswick

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