grieving a loss

Losing Friends to Mental Illness

When we think about deadly diseases, the first things that likely come to mind are cancers, autoimmune diseases, or heart disease. While these are all devastating health conditions, one of the most often overlooked types of deadly disease is mental illness. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry¹, an estimated 14.3% of deaths worldwide each year can be attributed to mental disorders. That’s around 8 million people every year who die as a result of a mental health condition. With these staggering numbers, it’s likely that you have known someone in your life who has seen these effects. Coping with death often leads to questions of why or how this happened, so let’s talk about how you can take care of yourself if you’ve lost a friend to a mental health disorder. 

Mental Health and Life Expectancy

People often assume that deaths attributed to a mental illness are only those who have died by suicide. This misconception does not take into account the effects that a mental health issue can have on the body. While suicide is one of the leading causes of death in relation to mental disorders, there are a number of health conditions that can come as a result of these. For example, those who struggle with an eating disorder commonly see nutritional deficits and life-threatening weight changes. They could also experience cardiovascular disease, leading to a fatal heart attack. Substance abuse is another serious mental health concern that can affect a person’s life expectancy as it often leads to a number of health issues that can result in death. 

Coping With the Loss of a Friend

A death caused by a mental health disorder can result in a mix of feelings. People are often left wondering what they could have done to help or change the outcome. The unfortunate reality is that there are a number of underlying causes and complex emotions that require help from a skilled mental health professional. Those struggling with severe mental illness must make the daily personal choice to fight for their well-being. We’ve all had days when we lack the motivation to go to work, school, or complete other life tasks. Imagine battling those feelings every single day with very little rest. This is exhausting and is the emotional struggle those with a serious mental health conditions manage each day. 

Tips for Coping With Grief

If you have recently lost a friend to a mental health condition, coping with and attempting to understand this death can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Here are some practical tips for managing your emotions during this difficult time:

  1. Allow yourself to feel every emotion that comes up. It’s completely normal to feel angry, distraught, and confused throughout your grieving process. Give yourself the space to process those feelings and know that it’s okay to feel all of these at once too. 
  2. Spend time reflecting on the good memories you have with that person. When it comes to a death caused by a mental illness, it’s easy to focus on the disease and its effects rather than the person. Take a few minutes each day to remember all of the positive experiences you had with your friend or loved one.
  3. Know that grief is not linear. You may have heard people talk about the “Stages of Grief” or have seen people in movies going through the grieving process. However, these depictions can be inaccurate because there is no formula for how grief works. You may feel like you have accepted the loss one day and return to feelings of denial the next. This is completely normal. Allow yourself to go through these stages on your own timeline because your experience is unique to you. 
  4. Find someone you can talk to about the death. The grieving process can feel isolating and often brings up unexpected emotions. Seeking out a professional counselor provides you a space to fully process this loss. Licensed therapists are trained in helping people navigate difficult life experiences, including grief. They can help provide perspective on your situation, work with you to develop coping skills, and leave ample space for you to feel all the emotions you need to. 

Support for Coping With a Loss

If you are going through a grieving process after losing a friend to a mental illness, you don’t have to do it alone. At Serene Behavioral Health, we specialize in helping those who are managing the mental health effects of major life events, such as the death of a loved one. Our different treatment levels are designed to meet your needs and provide the best level of care based on your symptoms. We help individuals heal from trauma related to a grief, mood disorders, and other life-controlling mental health conditions. If you would benefit from more intensive treatment for managing a mental illness, contact us today. 


1. Walker ER, McGee RE, Druss BG. Mortality in Mental Disorders and Global Disease Burden Implications: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis . JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(4):334–341. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.2502

Share this post