For some, the feelings of sadness following the loss of a loved one can become debilitating and do not improve over time. This is called complicated grief.

Loss is a normal part of life. But everyone copes with loss differently and according to different timelines. Following a tragedy or other loss, most people experience a normal grieving period that involves feelings of incomprehension, despair, numbness, guilt, anger and a range of other emotions.

Some people, however, find these feelings don’t go away or improve as time goes on. Their emotions are so overwhelming and long-lasting that they find it difficult to function throughout the activities of their normal, everyday lives. They suffer from complicated grief.


Complicated grief is characterized by the inability to accept a loss or tragedy and move on with one’s life. Symptoms may include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Irritability
  • Emotional detachment
  • Sadness or depression
  • Difficulty completing everyday tasks
  • Bitter behavior
  • Preoccupation with the deceased or the reminders of the deceased
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or self-blame

While it’s normal to experience the above symptoms following the loss of a loved one, the symptoms can become cause for concern if they have shown little to no improvement after several months. In the latter situation, it’s important to talk with a medical professional.

People affected by complicated grief are at a high risk for suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, talk to a friend or someone you trust about what you’re feeling and going through. If you think you are close to acting on suicide, call 911.


Treatment for complicated grief is always specific to the individual. Because everyone experiences grief differently, this is the best way to address a person’s needs. Many people achieve positive results with a treatment of psychotherapy (counseling), also known as complicated grief therapy.

In complicated grief therapy sessions, the patient and counselor may discuss topics such as symptoms, personal reactions and life goals. The counselor may also guide the patient through imagined conversations or activities with the deceased person as a way for the patient to achieve catharsis for things he or she didn’t say or do prior to the person’s death.

Psychotherapy can help people suffering from complicated grief process their emotions, improve skills needed to successfully cope with their loss, and reduce any feelings of blame.

Additional treatments include antidepressant medications, support groups and stress reduction techniques. Some people find that taking up a new hobby, or becoming involved with a community group, can help to build new relationship and refocus the mind.

If you feel you are experiencing prolonged grief that may be classified as complicated grief, talk to your doctor and set yourself on a path toward peace and acceptance.

Image by Pol Sifter via Flickr


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