What Is Complicated Grief?

What Is Complicated Grief?Grief is a normal human response to loss, and bereaved individuals experience a collection of emotions related to grief. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide lists the following as some of the more intense symptoms of grief:

  • Anger
  • Suspicions about people offering help
  • Blaming self or others for the death
  • Thinking constantly about the death or events leading to it
  • Hallucinatory experiences
  • Symptoms of major depression

These symptoms can be overwhelming and debilitation, but they are typically short lived. Harvard Medical School explains that, “if the symptoms linger and become increasingly debilitating, the condition turns into what is now being called…complicated grief. It has features of both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Sufferers may deny the death of a loved one, experience desperate helplessness or want to die themselves. Complicated grief takes over a person’s life and affects his or her ability to participate in daily life or experience happiness, and sufferers may turn to harmful behaviors such as drug use to find relief from symptoms or escape from negative thought patterns.

Risk Factors for Complicated Grief

Traumatic deaths are more likely to cause complicated grief in surviving loved ones. A death that is unexpected or sudden can impact the development of complicated grief, but any death can lead to complicated grief. Some risk factors of developing complicated grief include the following:

  • Experiencing the premature or unexpected death of a loved one
  • Experiencing the violent or sudden death of a loved one
  • Having previous trouble coping with loss
  • Having a history of depression
  • Struggling with anxiety or personality disorders

Poor coping skills resulting from co-occurring mental health issues or personal history make dealing with grief more difficult and increase the potential for an individual to turn to drugs or alcohol to find temporary relief. However, ignoring complicated grief, deciding to get through it alone or turning to substance abuse will not create any real change. Complicated grief can get better, but it requires professional treatment rather than denial or self-medication.

Treating Complicated Grief

Complicated grief is treatable and is commonly addressed through traumatic grief therapy. This form of therapy offers stress management techniques, coping skills and elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a form of therapy useful in treating many mental health and addiction concerns that can address co-occurring depression, anxiety or addiction issues. Harvard Medical School reports that, “traumatic grief therapy was found to be especially effective for people mourning a violent death; more than half of them improved, compared with 13% in standard interpersonal therapy.” There is hope for life after loss. While a loved one can never be replaced and should never be forgotten, bereaved individuals can learn how to find hope and move forward.

Finding Help for Substance Abuse and Grief

If you or a loved one is overwhelmed by loss, let us help. Call our toll-free helpline to learn more about options for mediation, treatment and recovery, and find meaning after loss. We are here 24 hours a day, so there is no wrong time to call.