What is Complicated Grief?

Grieving over a loved one’s death or other loss is an inevitable part of our common humanity and life experience. However, most people move through the painful stages of the grieving process and, eventually, are able to enjoy life once more. While we will always miss our loved ones, at times intensely, we recover and do our best to move forward.

The difference between normal grief and complicated grief is that people who suffer from complicated grief struggle to get better over time.  Without help, individuals who suffer from complicated grief continue to experience intense, disabling feelings of loss and emotional pain that control their lives, relationships with others, and the ability to function and adapt.

While it’s normal to experience intense emotional pain and have difficulty functioning after losing a loved one, most people adjust and eventually heal. Individuals who have experienced loss gradually transition from acute grief to integrated grief.  While grief may always be present, it does not prevent the individual from living a full, happy and functional life. The grief eventually dissipates, allowing them to function and have meaningful relationships with others.

Complicated grief is a syndrome where the bereaved person does not move beyond the acute grief phase towards healing. A variety of factors block the healing process and prevent the sufferer from accepting their loss and moving forward. Individuals with complicated grief remain in the acute grieving stage, where their thoughts are dominated by feelings such as:

  • Longing

  • Remorse

  • Sadness

  • Bitterness

  • Guilt

  • Shame

  • Anger

These intense feelings prevent the sufferer from healing and enjoying life again. The complicated grief impairs the bereaved person’s ability to enjoy relationships with other people. For somebody suffering from complicated grief, life can seem hopeless and devoid of meaning.

About 10% of bereaved individuals experience complicated grief, with higher rates among subgroups, including those who lose a child or a loved one due to unexpected circumstances such as disaster or violence.

Recovering from Complicated Grief

The first step in recovering from complicated grief is to find a group of mental health professionals who can provide a sophisticated and compassionate initial evaluation, leading to an accurate diagnosis. Complicated grief should be distinguished from other disorders such as major depression and PTSD. Although some patients do suffer from other disorders as well as complicated grief, this syndrome must be recognized as a separate disorder with a distinct approach to treatment. A significant factor in diagnosing complicated grief is the persistence of symptoms of acute grief for more than one year in adults and six months in children. People with complicated grief continue to experience thoughts and feelings such as:

  • Acute sadness and emotional pain

  • Preoccupation with the deceased

  • Inability to accept the loss

  • Emotional numbness related to the death

  • Self-blame

  • Anger

  • Bitterness

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities

With appropriate help, which can include targeted psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy, medication, and other individualized treatment approaches, people who have suffered for decades can recover and move forward with their lives.

The Mental Health Collective Can Help

Each person suffering from complicated grief has experienced unique and heartbreaking circumstances related to the death of their loved one or other loss which somehow prevents them from healing through a healthy grieving process.

At the Mental Health Collective our dedicated team of mental health professionals will help you to understand and process the painful feelings and emotions that are keeping you in the acute grieving phase. We will stay with you on your journey towards acceptance of your loss and gradually moving forward with your life.

At the Mental Health Collective, we want to help you to go beyond symptom reduction to achieve your optimal quality of life. Treatment begins with a comprehensive bio-psycho-social assessment by a board-certified psychiatrist and a licensed psychologist. Your clinicians will tailor your treatment plan to your individual needs.

Your individualized treatment plan can include life-affirming activities such as:

  • Yoga

  • Mindfulness and meditation practices

  • Nutrition

  • Exercise

  • Journaling

  • Massage therapy

  • Art

  • Medication management

We understand that you may always experience grief over the loss of your loved one. However, if your grief is preventing you from functioning in the way that you would like to, we are here to support you in processing the thoughts and emotions that are holding you back.

At The Mental Health Collective, we understand how infinitely valuable each person is who comes to us for healing. We want to help you to recognize and acknowledge how irreplaceable you are in your own right.

We are here to help you recover from your loss and go forward, honoring the memory of your loved one by living each day of your life in the best way possible.

(SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE WHO IS STRUGGLING WITH GRIEF)