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Complicated Grief: When Sorrow Is Overwhelming

Losing a loved one is one of the most distressing and, unfortunately, common experiences people face. Most people experiencing normal grief and bereavement have a period of sorrow, numbness, and even guilt and anger. Gradually these feelings ease, and it’s possible to accept loss and move forward.

For some people, feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes. This is known as complicated grief. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble accepting the loss and resuming your own life.

If you have complicated grief, seek treatment. It can help you come to terms with your loss and reclaim a sense of acceptance and peace.

During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade over a few months, those of complicated grief linger or get worse. Complicated grief is like being in a chronic, heightened state of mourning.

Signs and symptoms of complicated grief can include; extreme focus on the loss and reminders of the loved one; intense longing or pining for the deceased; problems accepting the death; numbness or detachment; preoccupation with your sorrow; bitterness about your loss; inability to enjoy life; depression or deep sadness; trouble carrying out normal routines; withdrawing from social activities; feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose; bitterness about your loss; inability to enjoy life; depression or deep sadness; trouble carrying out normal routines; withdrawing from social activities; feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose; irritability or agitation; lack of trust in others.

When to see a doctor

It’s normal to experience grief after a significant loss. Most people who experience normal or uncomplicated grief can move forward eventually with support from family and friends. But if it’s been several months or more since your loss and your emotions remain so intense or debilitating that you have trouble going about your normal routine, talk to your health care provider.

Specifically, you may benefit from professional help if you can focus on little else but your loved one’s death; have persistent pining or longing for the deceased person; have thoughts of guilt or self-blame; believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death; feel as if life isn’t worth living; have lost your sense of purpose in life; wish you had died along with your loved one.

At times, people with complicated grief may consider suicide. If you’re thinking about suicide, talk to someone you trust. If you think you may act on suicidal feelings, call 911 or your local emergency services number right away.

It’s not known what causes complicated grief. As with many mental health disorders, it may involve an interaction between inherited traits, your environment, your body’s natural chemical makeup and your personality.

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