Supporting mental health through grief and bereavement

What is grief?

Grief describes the feelings you get when losing something important to you – it can be a person, an animal, an item, or a concept.

Grief affects people in different ways and at different levels depending on the circumstances of the loss (e.g. those who have experienced a bereavement may feel more intense grief than those who have lost their job) but all grief is valid.

Common feelings that occur due to grief include helplessness, sadness, anger, guilt, and exhaustion.

Types of grief

Grief is often associated with the moment immediately after the loss of something or someone loved, but there are two other main types of grief you may also experience.

  • Anticipatory grief – the feelings you get in the lead up to a loss or death e.g. with a terminal health condition
  • Secondary loss – the feelings when you experience something you want to share with your loved one but cannot due to the original loss

How does grief impact mental health?

The way that you feel while grieving can be very similar to depression with feelings of extreme sadness and low mood for an extended time. It’s not unusual for those who have experienced loss or bereavement to develop a mental health condition in the future.

Grief can feel constant, overwhelming, and painful which can make the experience even more difficult for those with existing mental health challenges to carry on with their day-to-day life.

As with any mental health experience, grief works on a spectrum. You will likely have some days that are better than others – here are our tips for looking after your mental health no matter what level of grief you are feeling.

How can you look after mental health through grief?

Identify your triggers

It’s important for both your initial grieving period and any secondary loss you may feel later to identify what triggers your feelings. While they may not always be avoidable, by identifying what they are you can prepare yourself for difficult situations and develop healthy ways to cope.

Give yourself a break

As we’ve mentioned, the emotions you feel during the grieving process can be overwhelming making it difficult to perform at the same level you normally would. At times like this the mantra “something is better than nothing” can be a good way to stay motivated without pushing yourself too far. Each day, set smaller tasks for yourself to achieve. E.g. cleaning the whole house may feel like too big a task to take on – but making your bed is ‘better’ than doing nothing at all which can make you feel more positive.

Talk to someone

Talking can be incredibly helpful after a loss as it helps you come to terms with the experience, express your emotions, and get advice from others.

Talk to others involved in the loss

Talking to those who have also been affected by the loss will help you to understand how they feel and vice versa. Being ‘in it together’ can make it feel easier to cope since you can support each other and understand your current feelings in a way few others can.

Talk to a friend or family member

Talking to those around you can be a good way to let them know how you’re feeling and what support you need. They may also be able to provide you with advice and guidance from their own experiences or offer support in areas that you feel too overwhelmed to handle.

Talk to a professional

Talking to a professional can help you learn techniques to process and manage your grief. Or you may choose to talk to a professional if you don’t want to share (some or all of) your feelings with those around you. You can talk to a therapist or contact a charity organisation for support.

Get more sleep

Sleep is essential for positive mental health – a lack of it is likely to make you feel worse. If you can, sleep as often as possible and don’t worry about whether it’s 3 AM or 3 PM, or if you’re sleeping for 7 hours at a time or for 1 hour 7 times! If you still have to stick to a normal sleeping schedule, check out these tips for getting better sleep from Wellity.

Look after your physical health

Many studies have shown a link between exercise and positive mental health – when you exercise your body releases endorphins that make you feel good. Nobody expects you to run a marathon while grieving – small activities like a 10 minute walk or a quick morning stretch can help.

Avoid substances

Substances like alcohol and drugs can make any existing feelings of low mood worse (particularly those that are classed as depressants). While some people use substances to ‘escape’ their feelings at that moment, it can often make it harder to cope in the long term. Consistent use of substances at a time like this can also lead to addiction. It is common for teens and young adults to turn to drugs and alcohol while grieving if they are not receiving sufficient support from elsewhere.

Learn from others

Everyone is going to experience grief at some point in their lives which means that everyone has an experience to share. Learning about those experiences can help you come to terms with your own loss, pick up coping techniques, and find healthy ways to manage grief.

Talk to your friends, watch interviews or read books about grief and loss.

One child in every classroom will experience the loss of a loved one before age 16. Grief can be incredibly difficult for children to cope with, we want to make it easier. Our Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers to support children and young people through difficult circumstances. Help us by buying our products, registering for our training courses or donating directly to our campaign.



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