At the moment, thanks to the work of Heads Together, there are a lot of people talking about both mental illness and grief.
It’s great – it’s so important to talk about these things. Both can come with a huge amount of stigma, and by talking about it we can help to reduce that stigma, and to remind people that it’s okay not to be okay.
However, one thing that I’m seeing time and time again, is people writing about mental illness and grief as if they are the same thing. I’m not entirely sure why this is – I think it might be because the royals unveiled their mental health campaign whilst also talking about their Mum’s death, and the counselling they had for their grief.
I don’t know the ins and out of the royal’s mental health, and I don’t know whether they have had a diagnosed mental illness, but, what I do know is that grief and mental illness are not the same thing.
Grief is something that will happen to nearly everyone at some point in their lives. It can bring a range of emotions that you’ve never felt pre-grief. It can be distressing, it can cause upset, tearfulness and low mood… but it’s normal to feel that way. It’s normal to miss someone who was a big part of your life. It’s normal to cry. To an extent, it’s normal for it to affect your eating and sleeping habits, at least for a little while.
It can reach the point where you feel you need counselling to give you the space you need to talk about it, and to help you learn how to deal with the emotions it brings up, and that is absolutely okay, but even at that point, it’s not necessarily a mental illness.
Grief could trigger mental ill-health. It can contribute to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, especially if you’re already predisposed to them, but it is not, in itself, a mental illness.
Mental illness affects one in four of the population at some point in their life. Mental illness is when the feelings and emotions that we have go out of the spectrum of ‘normal’. If we have a diagnosed mental illness and then go through grief, it could exacerbate the pre-existing illness, but the grief itself isn’t an illness.
It is important to talk about mental health and mental illness and to encourage people to seek help when and if they need it. However, it’s also important to understand that it’s okay to feel. Feeling sad or upset in response to difficult life events – included, but not limited to grief – is absolutely normal.
It’s important to be open with each other when we are struggling, and to reach out for help. It’s important not to squish it down, ignore it, and pretend it’s not happening, because it’s likely to just blow up at some point. It’s important to go to your GP if we feel as though you’re struggling with mental illness. But it’s also important to remember that feeling is normal, feeling is okay. It’s normal to feel sad, upset or low at times, especially if someone close to use has died.