Grief Is Not A Mental Illness

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.


7 thoughts on “Grief Is Not A Mental Illness

  1. It’s a normal reaction to an extremely stressful emotional stimulus, and in its way is a symptom of a *properly* operating mind, as it processes and deals with that shock… its progression into something deeper and longer lasting, which is somewhat like a form of PTSD in a way, is decidedly not healthy.

    One of my aunts appears to be demonstrating similar at the moment, following my grandmother passing away last december (mum is keeping it together a bit more, but I still worry), and it’s getting quite concerning to be entirely honest. I don’t know what her own detailed situation is, if she’s had any counselling or other therapy to try and come to terms with it (they were extremely close; it’s a sign of how much my own meds have flatlined my amygdala that, although I was nearly as close myself, I didn’t and still don’t feel anything like the same distress, except in some very fleeting moments when a shadowy suggestion of it passes by, usually if I’ve been useless and missed a dose), but pretty sure that if it persists more than a few days beyond the first anniversary (or maybe new year, seeing as it was only a couple weeks before christmas) it might be time to start broaching that with her…

    1. I hope that you are able to broach it with her soon and that you all get the help and support you need. Grief can be so tricky to cope with. Naomi

  2. Last year I lost my brother, I was heavily pregnant (gave birth 3 weeks after) I already suffer with depression and for me my loss took me over the edge, I was suffering with depression post natal depression and grief, it has now been 11 months and not much has changed, my grief is still as present as ever and although I have medication its not always the answer. I am happy its been brought to the light more and hope there can be less stigma and more support for people available.

    1. I think it’s great it’s been brought to light more, too. It sounds like you went through a horrible time. I really hope that you’re getting the support that you need and deserve now ❤

  3. I couldn’t agree more!

    However, the Dsm-5 has an inclusion for deviations.. so for approx 90% of the population grief is normal and not a mental health ‘problem’ but for roughly 10% it can be.

    I suspect the Royals could possibly have had traumatic grief due to the road death and hence the avoidance & need for counselling, but this is rare.

    1. Yes absolutely, they went through a horrible time. I experience both grief and mental illness, too. I just don’t think it’s helpful to always lump the two together x

      1. I agree to a point- traumatic grief is a mental illness, it is essentially PTSD. The amygdala is overstimulated & this can’t be processed due to a blockage at the integration barrier. There is diagnostic testing for this- we use it at Roadpeace based on research by Atle Dyregrov & adapted by Noreen Tehrani for us- both trauma experts.

        But I agree with you with regards to normal grief & my frustration is that most people don’t know the difference between normal grief & complicated grief or that grief is not depression/anxiety etc – they are all different even if they appear the same at times.

        Its a great post – its rare to read something this good & spot on! 🙂 xx

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