Grief and Mental Illness: A Complicated Connection

Feelings of grief are often connected to the diagnosis of mental illness. When first diagnosed, it can feel as if a part of you, of your life, has died. This blog will explore the definition of grief, its connection to our mental health, and ways in which we can utilize it in a positive fashion (yes, positive!) to help us on our journey to mental health stability.

The Definition of Grief

I like using Wikipedia to define words---to try to understand them on a general level and then connect them to mental health.

Wikipedia defines grief as:

Grief is a. . .response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to loss.

I like this. This description makes sense. If we can alter the words that directly connects grief--"bereavement"-- to the loss of a person, we can then make connections between the diagnosis of mental illness, and feelings of grief.

Connecting the Dots. . .

Rather, connecting the words. Based on the above definition and description of grief we can tie it into mental illness in the following ways:

  • A response to loss. When we are first diagnosed it can feel like we have lost many things: parts of our lives, people, and, sadly--ourselves. In connection:
  • An emotional response to loss. Feelings of grief are, as we learned, tied to feelings of loss and emotion. Finding out we have a serious mental illness that will affect our lives, often on a daily basis, creates emotions that be frightening. We might feel out of control emotionally---we probably feel lost. Life as we knew it, good or bad, has suddenly drastically changed.
  • Grief is connected to not just our emotions but our body. To be more specific: when you are struggling with an emotion like grief, your body also responds .For example: I suffer with migraines when I am dealing with things that are emotionally difficult. We might feel tired, more or less hungry, or depressed. Point in case: grief surrounding the diagnosis of mental illness can affect our quality of life physically as well as emotionally

These are just a few examples. Grief is complicated; it is different for each of us. If you have ever lost a loved one you understand grief and feelings of loss. When connected to mental illness it can feel similar: the loss of self.

Putting a Positive Spin on Grief and Mental Illness

At the beginning of this blog I state that we can utilize grief in a positive way. How can we do this? Good question! I'll do my best to answer it, and welcome feedback on the topic.

  • Try to understand that grief, while painful, is part of recovery.
  • Emotions like grief and loss allow us to come to a place of acceptance. Accepting that we have a mental illness is probably one of the most difficult things we will ever have to do.
  • Just by experiencing grief, we are better equipped to help those in our lives when they need emotional support. Emotion, all ranges of it, increases empathy for others.

When first diagnosed with a mental illness, as you begin to recover, it's normal to feel sadness, loss, and grief. But try to think of it this way: You must feel these emotions---go through the process of dealing with them--- to feel happiness and stability. You appreciate these emotions more when you have struggled so hard to find peace.

What comes to mind when you think of grief and mental illness?

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, May 13). Grief and Mental Illness: A Complicated Connection, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 24 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

candie wheeler
May, 3 2014 at 7:34 am

Sandra. Your post gave me some hope. After years of emotional abuse from my mother,and at age 55 wondering everyday who I am- Their is a glimmer of life possibly? Hopefully you could share how you came to be where you are now... God bless,Candie

Sandra L. Flaada
May, 15 2013 at 4:23 am

When I was first diagnosed I grieved for all the years I lost--I was molested when I was 3,8 and 16-18. I was raped twice when I was 18, by a teacher and by a "friend." I did not remember this until I was 57. I grieved for the person I could have been, I grieved for the life I could have had. The good news--I am done grieving--I have learned to start from where I am and that's not such a bad place when I live in the moment and not in the past.

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