Here’s what puts you at risk of a mental health disorder after loss
Please note: You can have all of the risk factors below and not develop a complicating mental health disorder — or have very few of them and still develop a mental health disorder. The following has not been reviewed by a mental health provider and is not intended to be medical advice. Please always refer to your medical provider for your own medical and mental health needs.
. . . What we are looking for — in any kind of anxiety — is proof of safety . . . we want to know we’re safe, cared for, and won’t be left alone, unloved, or unprotected. Our mind runs scenarios, often repeatedly, of not being safe — of being hurt in some way — so that we can find some scenario, some evidence, that proves we’re safe.”
Megan Devine, It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand (Sounds True, October 2017)
When you’re facing a traumatic loss, it can be difficult to parse out what response is simply grief — what is a trauma response — and what is a complicating mental health disorder. While the following is not intended to substitute for medical advice, the following risk factors can help give you an idea if you are at an increased risk of developing a mental health disorder.
The following are some additional risk factors you should be aware of after pregnancy or infant loss.
- History of infertility.
- Previous mental health diagnoses.
- Lack of proper social support.
- Low income.
- History of substance abuse.
- Pregnant after loss.
- History of recurrent pregnancy losses.
- Previous mental health history.
- Lack of support from a partner or domestic violence.
- No living children.
- Termination for medical reasons.
- Unintended pregnancy.
- Traumatic birth experience.
- Your baby spent time in the NICU.
What bereaved parents have to say about mental health disorders after loss:
“For roughly the first year, I dissociated from my body completely. I was a consciousness wearing a meat suit. I cared for its basic needs, to function for my other children, but it wasn’t me. I refused to even look down in the shower. It took a long long time before I could trust my body again, let alone forgive it.” Christine
“A year had almost past and I was still feeling like I was on autopilot. I was getting rashes all over my body that wouldn’t go away. When the doctor told me it was an autoimmune disease that had no cure or side effects other than being uncomfortable, I broke down. Deep down I wanted it to be fatal. I didn’t want to kill myself* but I didn’t want to live either.” Cynthia
“I was in my kitchen a few weeks after we had lost Bryant and it felt like something inside of my chest had physically flipped. It was then I knew my grief had turned into depression.” Lindsay
“I saw a professional counselor who specializes in complicated grief. He provided a safe space where I could speak honestly about my pain and he helped me navigate the complexities of child loss.” Clint
“I couldn’t turn my mind off. There is a lot of research about how mindfulness and being in the moment can help relieve anxiety, depression. But meditation intimidated me. Instead, I took up cross-country skiing or running and target shooting.” Kae
“I was having nightmares and flashbacks often. Though I was not suicidal, I was constantly thinking about dying in a longing way. Everything made me jumpy. I had no hope this would ever stop. It felt completely overwhelming. I could not concentrate and was so forgetful. I was sad, just so sad.” Ali