When Grief Is Complicated by Mental Illness
Rarely does anything in life happen in isolation. Most of us are juggling multiple things at any given time. This is also true of the grief process. We are not afforded the luxury of having the world around us come to a stop while we mourn our loss. This includes our inner world as well.
If we have experienced symptoms of mental illness prior to the passing of our loved ones, then we are very likely to experience a resurgence of those symptoms after the loss, thus complicating our grief process. Symptoms of depression and anxiety are the most common and can even be a normal part of the process. However, left unchecked, those symptoms can lead to problems with coping, such as panic attacks, and can also manifest as physical problems, including stomach disorders. Additionally, untreated depression can complicate the grieving process by causing distorted thinking. When our thinking is distorted, we tend to magnify all of the negatives, such as guilt. This line of thinking may lead to suicidal thoughts, unresolved anger or bitterness.
Bipolar disorder is the next most common illness that I have seen in my experience as a counselor. Not only is bipolar disorder widely misunderstood, it is widely untreated. It is important to understand that there are two types of this disorder.
Bipolar type I is characterized by more episodes of mania, which are generally exhibited as high energy and feeling good—so good, in fact, that one does not believe that they need medication or treatment. When this good mood ends, the person crashes and experiences extreme depression. During the manic phase, there is also a decreased need for sleep. The mood is frequently accompanied by increased productivity and creativity.
Bipolar type II is characterized by more episodes of extreme depression and the high mood periods are not as high as type I. The good mood in this type is called hypomania for that reason. The extreme depressive episodes are of most concern during the grieving process, as they are when one is most likely to carry out the act of suicide. That is not to say that every depressed person is suicidal—only that if they are, this is the time frame when it is most likely.
In both types of bipolar disorder, there are also symptoms of anxiety and irritability. This may be expressed toward others or internalized. This lack of emotional regulation causes the behaviors that most people notice when the disorder is not properly treated.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress are also very common, but there are too many disorders for me to discuss each one in this article. If you or a family member would like more information about support and treatment, please feel free to contact me at 1-888-789-2922 or email@example.com. I would be happy to provide you with assistance.
—Stacie Adams, Kids Path Counselor
Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today toll-free at 1-888-789-2922.
Tags: Grief Support