If you’ve ever experienced grief, then you’re pretty well “aware” that it exists. Even so, almost everything has an “awareness day,” and grief is no exception. Next week, (August 30 to be exact), is National Grief Awareness Day.
What is National Grief Awareness Day?
Founded by Angie Cartwright in 2014, National Grief Awareness Day exists to raise awareness of the many ways in which people cope (or sometimes don’t cope) with loss. The day was created to encourage open dialogue about loss and bereavement and to remind people that those around them may be going through personal losses or other “invisible” stressors.
The different types of grief
Grief manifests itself in different ways for different people in different circumstances.
When we think of grief, we often think of missing those who have passed away. Anyone who has experienced such a loss can attest–the grief can be immense and lasting. But there are other types of grief, too. In a recent article, the Mayo Clinic describes “ambiguous loss,” for example, as the sense of profound loss that isn’t associated with the death of a loved one. This can be the loss of an emotional connection with someone, or even a physical connection (for example, when a loved one moves away).
A challenge with ambiguous grief is that, while the death of a loved one brings certain societal behaviors and support, ambiguous grief doesn’t bring the same level of visibility. While a person is suffering through ambiguous loss, there isn’t the same level of formal recognition. It can be incredibly lonely.
Prolonged grief disorder
Have you ever experienced grief that simply wouldn’t subside? If so, you may be dealing with prolonged grief disorder (also called “complicated grief”), which, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “is characterized by intense and persistent grief that causes problems and interferes with daily life.”
This disorder was just recently formally added to the DSM-5 TR in March of 2022 after years of debate about whether it should be included. People experiencing prolonged grief may still be preoccupied with the loss or not functioning well socially for more than a year following the initial loss. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the psychological community should remain vigilant. The pandemic’s toll on mental health has been well documented, and we may see increased cases of prolonged grief emerge in the coming years. Currently, prolonged grief disorder affects around 7% of adults who have experienced acute distress.
Health effects of grief
Regardless of the type of grief a person is suffering from, the impact on their health can be significant and devastating. According to a recent article, the physical health effects from grief can include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Increased cancer risks
- Long-term insomnia
And those suffering from grief tend to have more overnight hospital stays, emergency room visits, and number of nights in the hospital.
How to deal with grief
- Understand and identify your loss. It may help to write down everything that has changed since you experienced your loss. These changes could be large or small, but none are insignificant. Share your list with someone you trust.
- Understand that your emotions might be complex. There’s more to grief than just sadness. Grieving the loss of a loved one often also means grieving a life that you planned to live with them. You may be angry, hurt, and tired.
- It’s not a contest. Oftentimes, loss happens in the midst of other life stressors. When a loved one passes away, there may be social, financial, or other implications. Understand that your journey is unique and if others around you are dealing differently, that’s okay. It’s not a comparison.
Get help and support. Trusted friends, family, and professionals (therapists, counselors, social workers) are there to help. And of course, if you want to talk to others who have been there and truly understand, support groups are a great option. It’s why we do what we do at Circles. So if you feel alone, download the app and connect with others who can lift you up.