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Grief is a natural response to loss, and everyone will experience it at some point. But the grieving process is different for everyone. Some might find that they cycle through the stages of grief and, over time, the weight that they’re feeling starts to lift. Other people may find that the effects of grief on their mental health are longer lasting. If you’ve lost someone close to you and you’re experiencing symptoms that continue to affect your day-to-day life long after, you might need help understanding if you need extra support with your mental health. 

Important: call 999 immediately if you’ve harmed yourself or you’re thinking about harming yourself.

Is grief a mental illness? 

Grief is not usually diagnosed as a mental health problem. But it can certainly feel like it at times. You can experience symptoms you may have never felt before, both physical and emotional. You might be experiencing insomnia, lose your appetite or become depressed. And this can lead to weight loss, exhaustion, and brain fog.  

It’s not easy. But it is normal.  

When you lose a loved one it can take time to adapt and learn to live with your grief. Even long after you’ve lost someone there can be an event such as a birthday or anniversary that triggers a difficult day. Usually it will gradually become easier to remember them.  

But what happens when your feelings of hopelessness just don’t go away? 

If your grief has gotten worse over time or you’re experiencing symptoms that are continuing to impact your day-to-day life long after loss, then you could be experiencing complicated grief. This is prolonged grief and can mean that you struggle to cope with everyday things. You might need to ask for support from your GP or a counsellor to help you work through your grief.  

For more detailed info on the symptoms of complicated grief and how to cope with it read our guide: What is complicated grief? 

Grief and depression: what’s the difference? 

From the outside grief and depression can look the same. And they can be very closely linked. But when feelings of sadness and hopelessness tip over into something that becomes debilitating, it could be clinical depression. Telling the difference between grief and depression can be difficult, so it’s important to ask for help when you’re struggling to cope.  

One way of thinking about the difference between grief and depression for some people is: 

  • Grief can come and go in waves. Perhaps you’ve felt okay for a while and an anniversary or other event related to your loved one who’s passed caused your grief to resurface. 
  • Depression is constantly there and is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that can sometimes be triggered by a traumatic event such as losing a loved one. 


Grief and depression are very closely related and clinical depression can sometimes be triggered by grief. But it’s worth remembering that these labels don’t really matter. Getting the help you need to feel better is the most important thing. 

Grief and depression symptoms 

Some of the symptoms below could be signs that you’re experiencing depression: 

  • Continuous low mood or sadness 
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • No motivation 
  • No energy 


Coping with grief and depression 

If you’re struggling with grief and depression to the point that it’s affecting your daily life, work or relationships, it’s time to ask for help. Speak to your GP – they’ll be able to talk to you about different options that could help you start to feel better. This could be talking therapies, referrals to different support groups or counsellors, or advice about whether a medication is right for you. And remember that getting support from other family members and friends can help too.  

What about grief and anxiety? 

Grief can sometimes cause heightened feelings of anxiety too. Even though feeling depressed is most commonly talked about after losing a loved one, it’s normal for some people to experience anxiety. Losing someone is out of our control so we can often feel unsafe or unstable. You might begin to worry about your own health or what could happen to the other people around you. Or you might find that after the loss of a loved one you have more financial concerns or responsibilities that lead to higher levels of anxiety. Those who experience complicated grief are also more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. Similarly, those people who already live with an anxiety disorder are more likely to experience complicated grief. 

Grief and anxiety symptoms 

You might experience all or just one or 2 of the below symptoms: 

  • Feeling irritable or angry 
  • Unable to relax 
  • Find it difficult to concentrate 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Dizziness 
  • Numbness  
  • Panic attacks 
  • Fatigue  
  • Nausea or stomach aches 
  • Sweating 
  • Shaking 
  • Insomnia 


Some physical anxiety symptoms can be scary. If you’re having shortness of breath, or panic attacks, talk to your GP so that they can check you over. In the moment, make sure you get support from those around you to help you slow down your breathing until you start to feel the panic subside. 

Coping with grief and anxiety 

Losing a loved one is a stressful time so your anxiety levels could be heightened. But when you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms that won’t go away after the death of a loved one, you might need to seek help. We’ve already mentioned talking to your GP because it’s important to get the right medical advice. But you might also want to consider looking into CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a type of talking therapy where you’re introduced to different coping mechanisms so that when you recognise your anxiety symptoms are starting, you’re better able to manage them. 

Getting support through grief and mental health problems 

There’s no question that losing someone can affect your mental health. And when grief leads to a mental health problem it’s so important to reach out for help. If you’re struggling to reach out to your doctor or those around you, there are other places you can get support: 

  • Mind – crisis resources and helplines for people with mental health problems 
  • Shout – free text message service available 24/7 for anyone struggling to cope 
  • Silverline – A helpline for people aged 55 and over who are struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation

If you need help

If you’re struggling with your mental health and are in crisis call Samaritans on 116 123. Whatever time, day or night, there’ll be someone there to talk to.

Phone Samaritans

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