MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH__WHAT’S GRIEF GOT TO DO WITH IT???__
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
Every May is designated Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal is to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families. It also draws attention to suicide, which can be precipitated by some mental illnesses.
And, it is equally important for all of us to help #BREAKTHESTIGMA of mental health.
We can break down the stigma by ending the silence. About 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness. It’s important to be able to talk openly about it to get people the help they need. And it’s VERY important especially now when many are suffering from the death of a loved one due to the coronavirus. They are grieving, and are also depressed by being in social isolation while “sheltering in place.”
What is Mental Illness?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. While each person will have different experiences, the main thing to know is that you are not alone. Mental health conditions are far more common than you think. It’s just that people don’t like to, or are afraid to, talk about them.
Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders worldwide.
But, what does GRIEF have to do with mental illness?
The concept of “grief brain” is not often discussed, but it’s real.
“Several regions of the brain play a role in emotion, including areas within the limbic system and pre-frontal cortex. These involve emotional regulation, memory, multi-tasking, organization, and learning. When you’re grieving, a flood of neurochemicals and hormones dance around in your head. There can be a disruption in hormones that results in specific symptoms, such as disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, fatigue, and anxiety,” says Dr. Jannell Phillips, a neuropsychologist at Henry Ford Health System in Michigan.
“When those symptoms converge, your brain function takes a hit. After all, if you’re overwhelmed with grief, it stands to reason that you won’t absorb your environment the same way you would when you’re content,” she adds.
Unfortunately, there are no quick-fix “grief brain” remedies to restore your ability to function when you’re overcome with emotion. However, it has been shown that when mourners actively process their grief experience and spend time doing “grief work” with a grief counselor, they learn how to more smoothly navigate the “new normal” and adapt to a life without their loved one. They begin to focus more on memories, rather than on the yearning and missing of the deceased. Individual grief counseling can be a lifesaver for those struggling to complete their normal daily activities and interact with remaining loved ones.
Everyone grieves differently. Just like there a times when a simple cut can become infected, there are times in which “normal grief” can turn into something bigger --- depression. Learning how to deal with loss is part of a person’s maturation. Coping with loss in a healthy way can become a growth experience, but refusing to seek professional help in the face of overwhelming pain — physical or emotional — is not only, inappropriate, but can be dangerous.
When Grief Becomes Complicated
Complicated grief disorder, also known as complicated bereavement disorder, keeps sufferers trapped in their pain and sense of loss after the death of someone they love. Grief is a normal human emotion, but it should be transitory, and when it becomes chronic and debilitating, it may require mental health treatment. With professional assistance, even the worst feelings of grief can be resolved and its most disabling symptoms overcome.
People who suffer from complicated grief disorder cannot escape feeling lost, alone, and devastated. Grief becomes their constant companion, and at that point, they need expert assistance from mental health professionals who understand the difference between healthy and dysfunctional bereavement.
Complicated grief is a real condition, and those who suffer from its debilitating effects need help and understanding.
So, if you are experiencing any level of grief, don’t be ashamed to seek outside expert help and support. And don’t be afraid of telling others about the mental health difficulties that are part of grief.
This May, honor Mental Health Awareness Month.
If you are in need of help, reach out for it.
If you provide help, applaud yourself for helping to stamp out the stigma.
If you want to learn about how grief counseling can help YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW, please find the download HERE for a free resource guide about the benefits of grief counseling.
If you or someone you know would like some gentle support while grieving, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My inbox is always open, reach out.