What is Complicated Grief?

woman struggling with complicated grief

What is Complicated Grief?

When you lose someone you love, you experience a feeling called grief. Grief is a natural response to loss and it can cause feelings of sadness, hurt, and deep sorrow. While experiencing grief after the death of a friend or loved one is normal, some individuals struggle with it more than others.

Complicated grief is a condition that is also known as complicated bereavement disorder. While feelings of grief usually fade over time, individuals with this condition do not experience improvement. Their grief becomes so intense that it disrupts their daily lives and makes it difficult for them to focus on anything other than the loss.

People suffering from complicated grief may display dysfunctional behaviors and irrational thoughts. For example, someone with complicated grief may begin to believe that their loved one is going to come back to life. This form of grief is chronic and can significantly impair your life, making it important that anyone experiencing this condition receives comprehensive treatment.

The Symptoms of Complicated Grief

About 7% of individuals who experience grief deal with complicated grief.[1] While the symptoms of complicated grief often mimic typical grief, people with this condition often experience them more intensely and persistently. Being aware of the signs can help you or your loved one realize that you need support from a licensed mental health provider.

The symptoms of complicated grief include:

  • Obsessing over the loss
  • Going to great lengths to avoid reminders of the loss
  • Intense feelings of longing for a person who has died
  • Feeling like you have lost your purpose in life
  • Attempting to always be around reminders of the person you have lost
  • Being unable to accept that a loss has occurred
  • Experiencing persistent and intrusive thoughts about the person you have lost
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense stress
  • Weakened immune function

Complicated grief can cause you to experience intense feelings of depression. Sometimes, people with this condition begin feeling like life is not worth living without their loved ones. This can cause them to experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm, indicating that inpatient treatment may be necessary.

How is Complicated Grief Diagnosed?

Grief is a normal reaction to losing someone you care about. However, once it causes you to experience nonadaptive thoughts and dysfunctional behaviors, you are struggling with complicated grief. While complicated grief is not listed by the American Psychological Association, this is a real diagnosis that requires professional treatment.

In 1997 a team of mental health experts came up with diagnostic criteria for complicated grief.[2] The criteria include:

  • A loss that occurred at least 6 months ago
  • Symptoms of persistent and acute grief includes yearning for the person who died, feelings of loneliness, and persistent thoughts about the individual who died
  • At least two of the following symptoms: shock, anger, difficulty trusting others, and an inability to accept death
  • Symptoms persist for more than a month
  • Symptoms cause significant impairment in your life

Other symptoms may include having trouble continuing with a regular routine, avoiding places or things that remind you of the person you lost, sleeping issues, lack of interest in self-care, and self-destructive behavior. This condition is often misdiagnosed as depression because of the overlapping symptoms. While depression is similar, complicated grief is directly caused by the passing of a loved one.

If you suffer from grief and loss, you could develop depression as a co-occurring disorder. Additionally, when your grief is left untreated it can cause you to engage in self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse. Because of this, attending a licensed mental health treatment center is of the utmost importance.

What to Expect During Treatment for Complicated Grief

Treatment focuses on teaching you how to manage your condition so that you can begin the healing process. Bereavement therapy is commonly used to help you get in touch with your feelings, accept the loss, build a support system, and regain control over your life. You may also participate in a grief counseling group that allows you to connect with other individuals struggling with similar issues as you.

It is important to note that if the complicated grief is accompanied by another mental health condition like depression or a substance use disorder, you will receive treatment for those issues as well. For example, if you suffer from depression you may be offered anti-depressant medication to help you cope with your symptoms while you recover from your complicated grief.

Another form of therapy you may engage in is known as traumatic grief therapy. If your loved one’s death was a traumatic event, your therapist will suggest this form of treatment. Traumatic grief therapy involves behavioral methods and interpersonal techniques that help you overcome your loss and the feelings associated with it.

Get Connected With a Highly Rated Mental Health Treatment Program

If you or a loved one suffered a loss and are having a hard time coping, you may be suffering from complicated grief. Complicated grief often co-occurs with other mental illnesses like depression or a substance use disorder. At Florida Recovery Group, we can help you learn how to cope with loss in a healthy manner and address any additional mental health issues you are facing.

Contact Florida Recovery Group today to learn more about our mental health treatment program.


  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.31887/DCNS.2012.14.2/mshear
  2. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.154.7.904
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