Death and Grief - Mental Health

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  1. Impact of losing a loved one
    1. Losing a loved one has an understandable impact on mental health, but most people will be able to move past those painful feelings and resume their lives after a period of time.
  2. Support and treatment for coping difficulties
    1. Some people will have a harder time coping and may require additional support and treatment.
  3. Depict signs of struggles through storytelling
    1. Look for ways to depict the warning signs of more concerning levels of grief and the role help-seeking and support networks can play in healing.

Storytelling Tips

Portray a Range of Mental Health Experiences 
  • Demonstrate the difference between “typical” grieving and more concerning responses to death. 
  • This can help viewers recognize concerning signs in themselves or their loved ones. 
Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment
  • Use storytelling to illustrate the risk factors for mental health distress following the loss of a loved one, to help people plan ahead and start accessing support and resources as early as possible
  • For example, if a viewer with a pre-existing mental health condition has an aging parent who could pass soon, seeing a storyline that encourages them to reach out to a mental health professional to develop a grieving and coping plan could reduce the harmful impact of that loss down the line. 
Spotlight Support from Friends and Family Members
  • Show characters or cast members being proactive and persistent in checking on loved ones who are mourning. 
  • One sign that grieving may have escalated to a concerning level is withdrawal from friends and family. Showing proactive and persistent support may encourage viewers to do the same for loved ones at risk of withdrawing. 


Most people will struggle emotionally after the death of a friend or family member, and the impact can be even more profound if the loss is unexpected. In a recent study, 20 to 30% of respondents cited the loss of a loved one as the most difficult event of their lives.

Grief is a complicated emotion that can shift from shock to depression, and back to shock again. Eventually, most people are able to resolve those emotions and find ways to integrate the meaning of the loss into their lives as they move forward. Healthy coping skills and professional support can make this grieving process more manageable. 

Approximately 10 to 20% of people will have more severe and enduring reactions to death that may require the support of a mental health professional. Studies have shown that losing a loved one suddenly raises the risk of major depression, excessive use of substances, and anxiety disorders. Grief after the death of a loved one can also increase suicide risk. The DSM-5 (the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders) includes a condition called complicated grief disorder, also known as traumatic or prolonged grief, which is diagnosed when a person is unable to move past their grief and resume their normal activities. This form of depression generally requires professional support and treatment. 

Because prolonged grief involves increased risk for negative outcomes like substance misuse and suicide, it’s important to know the warning signs that the grieving process has reached a severity or duration that may require professional support. Look for signs and symptoms of depression occurring more than six months after the loss, especially if the individual has a previous history of mental health challenges, they were extremely close to the person who passed, or the death was completely unexpected.

Children can be especially susceptible to emotional distress after the loss of a loved one because they may not fully grasp the concept of death, they may blame themselves, or they may lack the coping skills to process difficult feelings around the death. If children exhibit major behavioral changes, like shifts in academic performance or loss of interest in activities they typically enjoy, it can be beneficial to engage a mental health professional who specializes in child or adolescent mental health.

Facts & Stats

A recent study found that 57% of Americans are currently grieving the loss of a friend or family member that has died in the last three years. 
The sudden loss of a loved one suddenly raises the risk of major depression, excessive use of alcohol, and anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias. Post-traumatic stress disorder shows the greatest increase in risk.
Developing a mental health condition for the first time in old age is relatively rare, but research shows that the death of a loved one can result in new conditions late in life. 
The death of a loved one can also worsen existing mental health conditions. 

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more in part 6