During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade over time, those of complicated grief linger or get worse. Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.
Signs and symptoms of complicated grief may include:
- Intense sorrow and pain at the thought of your loved one
- Focus on little else but your loved one's death
- Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
- Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
- Problems accepting the death
- Numbness or detachment
- Bitterness about your loss
- Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
- Irritability or agitation
- Lack of trust in others
- Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor if you've recently lost a loved one and feel such profound disbelief, hopelessness or intense yearning for your loved one that you can't function in daily life, or if intense grief doesn't improve over time.
Specifically, you may benefit from professional help if, over time, you continue to:
- Have trouble carrying out normal routines
- Withdraw from social activities
- Experience depression or deep sadness
- Have thoughts of guilt or self-blame
- Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
- Have lost your sense of purpose in life
- Feel life isn't worth living without your loved one
- Wish you had died along with your loved one
If you have thoughts of suicide
At times, people with complicated grief may consider suicide. If you're thinking about suicide, talk to someone you trust. If you think you may act on suicidal feelings, call 911 or your local emergency services number right away. Or call a suicide hotline number. In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.
Sept. 13, 2014
- Conditions for further study: Persistent complex bereavement disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed Aug. 14, 2014.
- Block SD. Grief and bereavement. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 14, 2014.
- Shear MK, et al. Complicated grief and related bereavement issues for DSM-5. Depression and Anxiety. 2011;28:103.
- Coping with the loss of a loved one. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/griefandloss/coping-with-the-loss-of-a-loved-one-intro-to-grief-mourning-bereavement. Accessed Aug. 4, 2014.
- Grief, bereavement, and coping with loss (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/bereavement/HealthProfessional. Accessed Aug. 14, 2014.
- Shear MK. Grief and mourning gone awry: Pathway and course of complicated grief. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2012;14:119.
- Simon NM. Treating complicated grief. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2013;31:416.
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