What is Complicated Grief?
It’s normal to feel grief after a loved one dies. Typically, this period of grief eventually passes and the individual is able to move on. However, in the case of complicated grief disorder, the feeling of loss is lasting and damaging. This disorder may also be called persistent complex bereavement disorder and can be extremely debilitating. But, with treatment, it’s possible to resolve complicated grief.
Complicated grief can inhibit someone from moving on after the death of a loved one for months or years. One is generally considered to have complicated grief disorder if they’re struggling to move on more than six months to a year after a loved one’s death.
Complicated grief disorder can impact every aspect of a person’s life, from their career to their social interactions. It’s similar to depression in that it can cause people to lose their sense of worth and feel suicidal. Treatment for complicated grief disorder is, therefore, extremely important to avoid self-harm and other severe complications.
The death of a loved one is the main trigger for complicated grief disorder. However, there are other factors that can make an individual more prone to complicated grief. These include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Personality traits
- Body chemistry
- Environmental factors
- Other mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression
Signs of Complicated Grief
In the first few months after the death of a loved one, the signs of complicated grief are generally identical to those of normal grief. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to identify complicated grief in the period immediately following a loss. At this time, any type of grief is typically intense and can impact all areas of a person’s life.
Complicated grief disorder may become apparent if the feelings of grief become more severe over time. If the grief has persisted rather than abated after six months, it’s a sign that complicated grief could be present.
After the initial, expected period of grief has passed, the following signs could indicate complicated grief disorder:
- Intense, overwhelming, and lasting sadness
- An obsession with the person who has passed
- Pessimism about the future and life as a whole
- Trouble sleeping
- A short temper and irritability
- An unwillingness to leave the house
- Failing to manage day-to-day obligations (work, school, family, etc.)
- Recklessness or impulsivity
- Suicidal thoughts, words, and/or actions
- An attachment to reminders of the person who has passed
- An aversion to reminders of the person who has passed
If the individual had a preexisting mental condition, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc., the symptoms of that condition may worsen with the onset of complicated grief disorder.
How is Complicated Grief Treated?
The best treatment method for complicated grief disorder can vary from patient to patient. It’s important to start by seeing a doctor if your feelings of grief are lasting and interfering with your day-to-day life. You can then begin a treatment plan, which may include therapy, medications, or a combination of both.
Therapy is one of the main treatment options for complicated grief. Psychotherapy, which is also often used in the treatment of depression and PTSD, may help ease the symptoms of this disorder. In psychotherapy, you can learn more about complicated grief, talk about and process your emotions, and develop healthy coping skills. Over time, psychotherapy can help lower feelings of guilt and sadness, as well as allow you to adjust your life goals after the death of a loved one.
While there are no medications used exclusively for the treatment of complicated grief disorder, medications for anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders may help people with complicated grief recover. Antidepressants can be particularly helpful in easing brain chemical imbalances that trigger depression and exacerbate feelings of grief. Discuss your treatment options with your doctor to determine if medications could be right for you.