Grief is a natural and universal response to loss. It is a process that entails many different emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Though often painful, grief can also be a source of strength and growth. For most people, the grieving process follows a fairly predictable pattern. There are, however, some individuals for whom grief is more complicated. This is referred to as “complicated grief” (CG).
What is CG?
Individuals with CG continue to experience intense grief even after a significant amount of time has passed since their loss. They may have difficulty accepting the death or finding ways to cope with their feelings. As a result, they may experience symptoms that interfere with their ability to function in day-to-day life.
These symptoms may include:
- Intense yearning or longing for the deceased
- Preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased
- Excessive self-blame or feelings of guilt related to the death
- Numbness or detachment from others
- Inability to engage in new activities or experiences
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Though not required for diagnosis, many people with CG also report experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is important to note that everyone grieves in their own way and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve. Some level of distress following a loss is normal and should not be cause for concern. It is only when these symptoms become severe and begin to interfere with one’s ability to function that CG should be considered.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can develop CG but certain factors may increase one’s risk. These include:
- A history of mood disorders such as depression or anxiety
- A history of trauma or exposure to traumatic events
- A lack of social support following the loss
Additionally, certain types of losses have been found to be more likely to lead to CG. These include the death of a child, the death of a romantic partner, and sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths. Though not an exhaustive list, these factors may increase one’s risk for developing CG following a loss.
Prevalence of Complicated Grief in the United States:
According to a recent study, the prevalence of complicated grief in the United States is about 3%. This means that out of every 100 people who experience a major loss, three of them will develop complicated grief.
However, this number may be higher in certain groups of people. For example, one study found that the prevalence of complicated grief was 7% among bereaved spouses and 11% among bereaved parents.
Impact of Complicated Grief:
Complicated grief can have a profound impact on an individual's mental and physical health, as well as their social relationships and work life. For example, people with complicated grief are at an increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse problems, and suicidal thoughts. They are also more likely to miss work days and have difficulty functioning at work. Additionally, complicated grief can strain social relationships and make it difficult to maintain close bonds with family and friends.
Treatment for Complicated Grief
Grief is a natural response to loss but for some people, it can be much more complicated than expected. If you find yourself struggling to cope after the death of a loved one, you may be experiencing complicated grief (CG). CG is characterized by intense feelings of sadness and despair that last long after the initial period of mourning has passed. If you think you may be struggling with CG, it’s important to seek professional help. A mental health professional can assess your symptoms and provide you with resources and support to help you through this difficult time.