Grief, loss and mental health

Grief is a natural response to loss. Though it’s often thought of in relation to death, it can occur no matter what type of loss you experience. It might well be the loss of a loved one. But it could also be the loss of a relationship, job or something else entirely.

The more significant the loss, the more intense your grief is likely to be. It can affect every part of your life and have a big impact on your mental health.

Everyone experiences grief in different ways. And that’s OK. Although you may be unlikely to ever forget your loss, you can find a way to live with it.

The 5 stages of grief

Grieving is sometimes associated with the 5 stages of grief. These stages are commonly considered to be: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

This can be useful to be aware of. But there is no standard process for grieving. You may experience one or more of these stages at any time during the grieving process. If you do experience all of these stages, they won’t necessarily happen in order. And you might go through other different stages or emotions as well.

Different types of grief

Most commonly, ‘grief’ refers to your emotional response during or after the loss of something important to you. But grief can come in many other forms, including:

  • anticipatory grief
  • secondary grief
  • collective grief
  • bereavement
  • acute grief
  • complicated grief
  • integrated grief
  • prolonged grief
  • disenfranchised grief.

Learn more about the different types of grief on the Griefline website 

Grief is something we all experience in life; we just need to be taught the skills to get through it.

Read about Eddie’s experience with grief and mental health

Factors that can affect how you grieve

Grief is an individual process. And there are many factors that can play a part in how you grieve. These might include:

  • what you're grieving
  • your previous experiences of grief and loss
  • your upbringing
  • your culture and beliefs
  • the support you have available.

What grief might feel like

The first few days after a loss can be particularly difficult. But the feelings you’ll experience when grieving are unlikely to all come at once. They might come unexpectedly or in waves over time. And they can often be triggered by memories or occasions. We’ve listed some common thoughts, feelings and behaviours people experience.


Grief can make you:

  • withdraw from social situations and isolate yourself
  • be irritable and less tolerant of others
  • lose interest in things you usually enjoy
  • cry or be tearful.


Grief can cause you to feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • shocked, numb or disbelieving
  • sad or helpless
  • lonely, rejected or abandoned
  • distressed, anxious or fearful
  • regretful or relieved
  • unmotivated
  • ashamed or guilty.


Grief can cause:

  • confusion, forgetfulness, a racing mind or poor concentration
  • difficulty with making decisions
  • a sense of unreality
  • repetitive, sometimes intrusive, thoughts or visions
  • anger or blame towards whatever caused the loss
  • restlessness.

Physical symptoms

Grief can affect your body. Physical symptoms of grief can include:

  • change in appetite
  • change in sleeping – for example, increased tiredness or insomnia
  • headaches, nausea, aches or pains.


Grief can cause you to:

  • question your faith or beliefs
  • search for understanding
  • feel that you’ve lost meaning or direction.

It took me years to come to terms with in some way or another. To just live...but still remember my brother.

Recovering from grief

It's important not to expect too much of yourself in the early stages of grief. Remember:

  • there is no wrong or right way to grieve - give yourself and others permission to grieve
  • don't be afraid to ask for help from a friend, family member, or by contacting a grief support service if you think you’re not coping
  • there is no timeline – the grieving process can be short or long. It can feel like it’s finished and then return.

The pain and hurt can make it hard to communicate with family and friends. Try to respect each other’s coping techniques and keep talking.

Grief will eventually become less intense. You’ll have more frequent and longer periods of energy and hope. Memories will become less painful, and your loss will become a part of life in a new way.

Activities to help with grief

Time alone to reflect

  • Spend time alone to think, remember, meditate or pray.
  • Keep a journal to record your thoughts and feelings.
  • Record notes or messages for friends and family when you need to tell your story, or to express feelings.
  • Visit a special place.

Capture memories

  • Make a journal, photo album or memory box with mementoes.
  • Create a memory book for family and friends to write stories, memories and messages.
  • In the case of bereavement, rearrange and store the person's belongings when you are ready to.

Reach out to others

  • Talk to someone you trust who will listen with understanding to your thoughts and feelings.
  • Be clear with others about what you would find helpful.
  • Attend individual counselling or a support group.

Plan coping strategies for the harder times

  • Develop a list of people and organisations to contact when the going gets tough.
  • Prepare for difficult dates, events and other triggers that may bring your grief to the surface.
  • Prioritise daily tasks - do only what is essential and be kind to yourself.
  • Use voicemail so you can choose who you’ll talk to. You might want to record a message such as, ‘Thank you for your call. I appreciate it. I’ll get back to you when I can.’

Look after yourself

  • Spend time in nature if you can.
  • Find distractions to give your mind time out.
  • Do things that you know help you relax. Whether it’s an activity, pastime or strategy that you know works for you. Or something new – like relaxation exercises, or practising mindfulness.
  • Do what you can to get good quality sleep.
  • Get active to boost your energy or to use excess adrenaline.
  • Avoid making big life decisions (if it can’t wait, get support with it from someone you trust).
  • Approach alcohol and other drug use with great care. It’s important to feel your feelings so that you can find ways to cope in the long term.
  • Take small steps back to your normal routine.
  • Don’t feel guilty about looking to the future – it’s part of the process.

Learn more about looking after your mental health and wellbeing.

Grief after a suicide loss

Grief after losing someone to suicide can be intense, confusing and especially complicated. You might find it difficult to talk about the cause of death because of the stigma associated with suicide.

Learn more about grief after losing someone to suicide.

Grief and depression

Grief and depression are different. However, some of the symptoms are similar.

If you are worried that you might have depression, then it's important to seek professional help.

Learn more about depression.

Find a mental health professional

Supporting someone else

It’s hard to know what you can say or do when trying to comfort someone who is grieving. But often it is the simple offer of love and support that is the most important.

What to say

  • Acknowledge the situation and let them know you care.
  • Talk openly about their loss.
  • Talk about everyday life too. Their loss and grief do not have to be the focus of all your conversations.
  • Be genuine and honest. Even if you don't know how you can help.

What to avoid saying

  • Avoid statements that might minimise their grief.
  • Broad questions like “what can I do to help?” or “what do you need?” can be difficult to answer while grieving. Try instead to offer suggestions of ways that you can help.
  • Avoid cliches or platitudes. Though good intentioned, they can seem impersonal when helping someone through a loss.

Listen with compassion

  • Offer comfort and support.
  • Listen and show that you’ve heard them, even if you don’t fully understand.
  • Accept that silence is helpful sometimes. It can offer them time to gather their thoughts.
  • Be patient.

Be there for them long-term

  • Understand that life might never feel the same for them. They may learn to accept the loss, but the sadness may never completely go away.
  • Let them know it’s OK to share their grief no matter when it comes up.
  • When they’re ready, encourage them to return to activities or social events that they enjoy over time.
  • Offer extra support on days that might be hard or triggering.
  • Look after yourself. Helping a grieving person can be difficult.

Further resources