What is complicated grief?
Losing a loved one is often a distressing time for close friends and family. Those who are grieving are consumed by overwhelming feelings of sadness, struggling to keep up with the daily routine.
For many, grief is a transitory feeling, one that passes with time. Gradually, the overwhelming feelings subside and the bereaved are able to move forward after their loss whilst still remembering their loved one. However, when feelings of grief do not ease and even strengthen, it is likely the bereaved is experiencing persistent complex bereavement disorder (also known as complicated grief).
It is also important to remember that complicated grief is not a choice and that those experiencing it have no control over how they feel.
What are the signs of complicated grief?
Grief is an entirely normal emotion after losing someone we love. However, if it lasts for a prolonged period of time, it is likely to be complicated grief. Complicated grief can be difficult to differentiate from ‘normal’ grief as the symptoms are much the same, however, with complicated grief the symptoms last significantly longer.
If you’re unsure whether you’re suffering with complicated grief, below are some symptoms:
Loss of motivation
Complicated grief can cause a lack of motivation to do the smallest of tasks, causing a person to lose their sense of purpose and the ability to enjoy life.
Lack of trust
Those experiencing prolonged grief can lose trust in friends and family, feeling lonely and detached from normal life whilst feeling bitter about their loss.
For some, complicated grief can also result in feeling completely numb, unable to feel any sort of emotion.
Another symptom of persistent complex bereavement is a tremendous feeling of pain when thinking of a lost loved one, as well as an intense longing for them.
If you or someone you know is having trouble accepting the death of a loved one, this is also a factor of complicated grief.
What causes complicated grief?
There is no rhyme nor reason why one may experience complicated grief, but below are some potential contributing factors:
- The loss of a loved one was unexpected, premature or particularly shocking
- The bereaved was particularly dependent on their loved one
- More than one death has occurred within a short period of time
- The bereaved witnessed the death, or cared for their loved one during a long terminal illness
- The loss of a child
- The bereaved may have previously had mental health problems
Although these are all potential causes, complicated grief can affect anyone after losing a loved one.
Complicated grief and depression
There are similarities between the symptoms of depression and complicated grief. If you or someone you know has already been diagnosed with depression, complicated grief can worsen these already problematic feelings.
Depression manifests itself differently in each individual; it can cause trouble sleeping (or oversleeping), unexplained feelings of helplessness, prolonged anxiety, suicidal thoughts and a lack of interest in hobbies one previously enjoyed.
It is possible to go through both complicated grief and depression at the same time, although they must be treated differently.
Dealing with complicated grief
Helping someone with complicated grief is not always easy, particularly if they are unaware they have a problem to begin with. A common element of complicated grief is a feeling of guilt that one should not be allowed to feel this way.
Encourage those suffering to seek professional help or meet up with them regularly to try and dispel the feelings of loneliness. Also ensure to fully listen to their concerns without judgement, encouraging them to talk about how they’re feeling.
The simple things really can make a difference, so if they’ll let you, try and help with the daily routine e.g. babysitting or cooking to give them time to themselves for a nap or a long bath.
If you or someone you know is experiencing complicated grief, you can contact your GP, locate a local bereavement support group, or read about how to best cope with grief.