Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Complicated grief isn't a clear-cut disorder. It's not clear on exactly which signs and symptoms indicate a diagnosis of complicated grief. There are also many similarities between complicated grief and major depression, and researchers are working to clarify the key differences between these conditions. In some cases, clinical depression and complicated grief occur together.

Some factors that may help identify complicated grief include:

  • Inability to trust others
  • Emotional numbness or detachment from others
  • A sense that life is now meaningless
  • Belief that the future won't be fulfilling
  • Agitation or jumpiness
  • Social withdrawal

These symptoms sometimes occur during the normal process of grieving. In complicated grief, however, they show no signs of improvement over time.

There's currently no consensus among mental health experts about how much time must pass, exactly, before complicated grief can be diagnosed. Some experts recommend diagnosing complicated grief when two or more months have passed without any improvement in symptoms, while others recommend waiting six or more months. While researchers continue to try to pin down a time frame for this diagnosis, their work is made challenging by the fact that grieving is a highly individual process.

Rather than looking at the exact time period, a mental health provider is more likely to diagnose complicated grief based on:

  • A lack of any improvement in your symptoms over time
  • A significant impact on your ability to function in daily life
Sep. 29, 2011

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