Grief is a normal part of coping with a loss, but for some people, it can be far more serious. In some situations, normal grief can lead to a grief disorder, which can require professional help to overcome.
What Are the Types of Grief Disorders?
There are several names for recognized grief disorders, including prolonged grief disorder and complicated grief disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) most recently added prolonged (complicated) grief disorder as an official psychiatric diagnosis, giving people suffering from debilitating grief a name for the disorder.
Prolonged Grief Disorder
Prolonged grief disorder affects some people more frequently than others. According to a paper published in the Oncology Nursing Forum, people who suffer from prolonged grief disorder often have a family history of the disorder. Women tend to suffer from prolonged grief disorder more often than men, though some men have the disorder as well. Typically, prolonged grief disorder is diagnosed at around six months after the causal traumatic event. This study also showed that African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to have the disorder.
Complicated Grief Disorder
Though the new psychiatric name for complicated grief disorder has been changed to prolonged grief disorder, the concept of complicated grief is still very appropriate. Research conducted by the Columbia University School of Social Work estimates that nearly 10 percent of all bereaved people develop complicated grief. This type of grief occurs when the normal feelings of grief after a traumatic event don’t begin to fade. Those suffering from complicated grief are in the same type of emotional pain months after an event as they were the day the trauma occurred.
What Causes Grief?
While it is not clear exactly what causes prolonged or complicated grief, the cause of normal grief can most commonly be attributed to the death of a loved one. According to the University of Rochester, grief can also be caused by the following:
Loss of a job
Loss of a beloved pet
Loss of a friendship
Loss of a personal dream
Loss of a romantic relationship
The loss of anything important to you can cause feelings of grief. When you are unable to cope with that grief over a long period of time, you may be at risk for a grief disorder. If you or someone you love is having difficulty coping with grief, you can seek help by calling (773)274-4600. Our compassionate therapists are available to help you.
What Are the Signs of a Grief Management Problem?
Managing grief can be extremely difficult, so it is important to understand the warning signs that may indicate that someone is having a problem dealing with grief. A person having difficulty with grief management might have suicidal thoughts, depression or difficulty completing daily tasks, according to the Mayo Clinic. Nicotine use and drug use may also be signs of a grief management problem.
If you notice any of these warning signs, you should seek help and find a treatment program near you.
Emotional Symptoms of Grieving
A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the emotional symptoms associated with grieving. The Mayo Clinic lists the emotional symptoms found with prolonged, or complicated, grief. These can include:
Preoccupation with loss
Inability to show or experience joy
While these emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.
Physical Symptoms of Grieving
It may come as a surprise that grief is not entirely emotional. There are very real effects that grief can have on the body. Some of the physical symptoms of grieving, according to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, are:
Though these symptoms are normal during the grieving process, you should remember to contact your doctor if you experience any severe physical symptoms.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Grief
Grief can have both short-term and long-term effects for affected individuals. Short-term effects might include the inability to attend work or school, or a lack of desire to attend social gatherings. Long-term effects can be more serious in nature.
Long-term effects of grief can be different, depending on the type of loss you or your loved one has experienced. When untreated, grief can lead to physical and mental health problems in some people.
Is There a Test or Self-Assessment I Can Do?
If you believe you are, or a loved one is, having an issue with prolonged or complicated grief, the Mayo Clinic recommends looking for some of the identifying factors of this type of grief, such as agitation, social withdrawal, emotional numbness or a sense that life no longer has any meaning. For more informatin about complicated grief please visit: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complicated-grief/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20360389
Grief Medication: Drug Options for Those Experiencing Extreme Sadness
Since grief has only recently been added to the DSM-V, medications specifically indicated for prolonged or complicated grief may not be easy to identify on your own. Your healthcare provider might be able to help you find drug options that work for your specific needs. Medication will not take away your grief or sense of loss, but it can help lessen some of the symptoms.
Grief Drugs: Possible Options
Normal grief does not usually require the use of antidepressants or other medications. In some cases, those suffering from prolonged grief may experience clinical depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, these types of cases may benefit from antidepressants. Some doctors prescribe medications for grieving adults, according to the New York Times. These doctors frequently prescribe addictive anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax, Ativan and Valium.
Medication Side Effects
All medications have some type of side effect. Antidepressants typically cause nausea, fatigue, weight gain, insomnia and irritation, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may notice that these symptoms are similar to the symptoms associated with grief. Be sure to discuss any side effects you experience from antidepressants with your doctor.
Antidepressant Drug Addiction, Dependence and Withdrawal
Antidepressants can be addictive medications, and people suffering from grief may be more likely to become chemically dependent, according to Psychology Today. If someone you love is struggling with addiction and grief, find a treatment center that can help your loved one deal with both grief and addiction in your area.
As with any medication, it is possible to overdose on antidepressants. You can prevent the risks associated with overdose by only taking prescriptions as directed by a physician. You can also avoid overdose by seeking therapeutic, non-medicinal treatments for grief.
Depression and Grief
In some people, grief can lead to depression. Clinical depression is a serious condition that requires medical care. In fact, according to The Hope for Depression Research Foundation, depression touches the lives of 18 million Americans each year. https://www.hopefordepression.org/ If you are, or a loved one is, suffering from depression, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. This compassionate book explores the important distinction between normal, depressive grief versus clinical depression. https://www.centerforloss.com/bookstore/the-depression-of-grief-coping-with-your-sadness-and-knowing-when-to-get-help/
Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and Grief
When a person is struggling with addiction while dealing with grief, it is essential to identify the problem early. The longer both disorders persist, the more difficult they are to overcome. If you or your loved one is in need of a treatment program that specializes in dual-diagnosis care, please consider locating a treatment center near you.
Getting Help for Grief-Related Problems
Help for grief-related problems is easier to find than you might think. Once you are, or your loved one is, ready to seek help, our trained staff can talk to you about the problem and help match you to a treatment program that meets your individual needs. Whether you seek an individual therapy program or a family-centered course of treatment, the most important thing to remember is that help is just a phone call away.
By David Fireman, LCSW