• Fact Sheet: Grief and Bereavement

    COMPLICATED GRIEF

    When grief doesn’t

    go away

    It’s normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following a loss. But as time passes, these emotions should become less intense as you accept the loss and start to move forward. If you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.

    Complicated grief

    The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.

    Symptoms of complicated grief include:

    • Intense longing and yearning for the deceased
    • Intrusive thoughts or images of your loved one
    • Denial of the death or sense of disbelief
    • Imagining that your loved one is alive
    • Searching for the person in familiar places
    • Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one
    • Extreme anger or bitterness over the loss
    • Feeling that life is empty or meaningless

    The difference between grief and depression

    Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn’t always easy, since they share many symptoms. However, there are ways to tell the difference. Remember, grief can be a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you’re in the middle of the grieving process, you will have moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.

    Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief:

    • Intense, pervasive sense of guilt
    • Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying
    • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
    • Slow speech and body movements
    • Inability to function at work, home, and/or school
    • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there

    When to seek professional help for grief

    If you recognize any of the above symptoms of complicated grief or clinical depression, talk to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide. But treatment can help you get better.

    Contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if you:

    • Feel like life isn’t worth living
    • Wish you had died with your loved one
    • Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
    • Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
    • Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
    • Are unable to perform your normal daily activities