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Signs of Complicated Grief Disorder

Grief is a normal and natural response to the death of a loved one. But when the pain of grief persists for an extended period, this could indicate that a person has developed a mental health concern called complicated grief disorder. Identifying the signs of complicated grief disorder can be a vital first step on the path to recovery for someone who has been affected by this condition.

What Is Complicated Grief Disorder?

Complicated grief disorder is a mental health condition that a person can develop in the aftermath of the death of someone who was significant to them. 

Experiencing grief is by no means a sign of a mental health condition – but if this psychological distress persists and becomes so intense that a person’s ability to function is hampered, then professional help may be necessary.

In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), this disorder is called persistent complex bereavement disorder. It is also sometimes referred to as prolonged grief disorder, prolonged grief, and complex grief. 

As we’ll explore in greater detail in the following section, the signs of complicated grief disorder can prevent a person from living a full and satisfying life. 

Signs of Complicated Grief Disorder

The signs of complicated grief disorder can vary from one person to the next. As established in the DSM-5, there are two sets of criteria for this diagnosis.

First, a person must exhibit at least one of the following signs for a period of at least 12 months (or for six months in children) following the death of someone to whom they were especially close:

  • Persistent yearning or longing for the deceased individual
  • Intense sorrow and related emotional pain due to the death
  • Preoccupation with the deceased person
  • Preoccupation with the circumstances surrounding the individual’s death.

Also, a person must experience at least six of the symptoms from the following list for 12 months or longer (or six months or longer for children):

  • Obvious difficulty accepting the death
  • Disbelief or emotional numbness related to their loss
  • Finding it difficult to recall and share positive memories of the deceased person
  • Persistent anger or bitterness due to the death
  • Blaming themselves for the death
  • Taking extreme measures to avoid reminders of the deceased individual or their death
  • Wanting to die in order to reunite with the deceased person
  • Inability to trust other people in the aftermath of the death
  • Sense of detachment from others following the death
  • Believing that they can no longer function and that their life is now meaningless
  • Struggling to maintain their identity or sense of self following the death of their loved one
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, friendships, and other significant parts of life

The signs of complicated grief disorder can become so problematic that they undermine the person’s ability to function at work, in social situations, or in other important areas of life.

Causes of Complicated Grief Disorder

A person’s risk for developing the signs of complicated grief disorder can be influenced by several factors, such as the following:

  • Being particularly dependent on the individual who died
  • The death of one’s child
  • Sudden, unexpected loss (such as the death of a loved one by suicide or as a result of an accident)
  • Gender (women are more likely to develop complicated grief disorder)

Is Complicated Grief Disorder Treatable?

As painful as complicated grief disorder can be, there is a glimmer of hope for people who develop this condition: It can be effectively treated. When a person receives the type and level of care that align with their unique needs, they can overcome their psychological pain and achieve a more hopeful and satisfying future.

Two promising therapies for people who have complicated grief disorder are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy:

  • CBT has proved to be one of the most effective interventions for people who have been impacted by the signs of complicated grief disorder. CBT is a short-term, solution-focused approach that is based on the principal that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. During CBT sessions, patients can identify maladaptive or otherwise self-defeating thought patterns, and replace them with a healthier mindset.
  • If a person’s struggles with complicated grief disorder are related to a history of untreated trauma, EMDR therapy may also be beneficial. EMDR sessions employ rapid bilateral eye movements to help eliminate emotional distress that is related to specific traumatic memories.

CBT and EMDR are not the only therapies that can help people who have been affected by prolonged grief. When a person enters treatment for this condition, their caregivers should assess the full scope of their needs, discuss their short- and long-term goals, and then develop a personalized plan that reflects these details. 

Find Treatment for Complicated Grief Disorder in Nashville

If you have been struggling with complicated grief disorder, Arbor Wellness may have the services you need. Our mental health treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, is a safe and welcoming place where you can receive customized treatment from a team of highly skilled and compassionate professionals.

We offer a full continuum of care, including residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient options, as well as a vibrant alumni support program. We understand that your time with us will be relatively brief, and we’re committed to providing the comprehensive services that can yield lifelong benefits.

To learn more about how we can help you, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.