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What Is Complicated Grief?

What is complicated grief?

After losing a loved one, it is normal to feel sad, lost, angry, guilty, numb, or any combination of these emotions. Usually, a person who is grieving will work through these feelings and eventually come to terms with the loss. This allows him or her to accept the loss and begin moving on. However, some people are unable to get past feelings of grief, to the point that they become debilitating to the sufferer. This is called complicated grief, sometimes known as persistent complex bereavement disorder.

After the death of someone close, the symptoms of normal grief can be the same as those of complicated grief. The main difference between the two is the length of time in which they persist. In cases of complicated grief, symptoms may actually worsen over time. These can include:

  • Severe emotional pain, including intense depression, sadness, anger or guilt
  • Feelings of numbness months after the death
  • Inability to accept the death
  • Fixation on the person who has passed
  • Inability to get back to normal life and routines
  •  Isolating from others
  • If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these symptoms months are losing a loved one, you may want to seek help. You should contact a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve between nine months to one year after the death occurs.

While the cause of complicated grief is still unknown, there are some risk factors that make certain individuals more at-risk of succumbing to it than others. Sufferers of complicated grief are often female and older in age. A person’s past experiences and medical background can also make them more susceptible to dealing with complicated grief. For example, someone who was previously diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more likely to experience complicated grief.

In addition, outside factors play a large role in the grieving process. If, for example, the death was unexpected or violent, or if the death was that of a child or someone especially close to the person in mourning, the chance of feeling complicated grief is greater.

Ultimately, grief is extremely subjective to each individual, especially immediately after the loss of a close friend or family member. However, if you or someone you know has been grieving for months on end with no improvements in sight, you should contact a doctor or medical professional. If left untreated, complicated grief can lead to serious depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, difficulty sleeping or concentrating on daily tasks, and substance abuse. Seeking help before these occur can prevent complicated grief from worsening or becoming unnecessarily prolonged.