By Kelly Daugherty, LCSW-R, GC-C, BC-TMH
This blog will focus on what complicated grief is. According to ICD 11 (International Classification of Diseases) “Complicated grief also known as Prolonged grief disorder is a disturbance in which, following the death of a partner, parent, child, or other person close to the bereaved, there is persistent and pervasive grief response characterized by longing for the deceased or persistent preoccupation with the deceased accompanied by intense emotional pain (e.g. sadness, guilt, anger, denial, blame, difficulty accepting the death, feeling one has lost a part of one’s self, an inability to experience positive mood, emotional numbness, difficulty in engaging with social or other activities). The grief response has persisted for an atypically long period of time following the loss (more than 6 months at a minimum) and clearly exceeds expected social, cultural or religious norms for the individual’s culture and context. Grief reactions that have persisted for longer periods that are within a normative period of grieving given the person’s cultural and religious context are viewed as normal bereavement responses and are not assigned a diagnosis. The disturbance causes significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
Grief is a normal, natural process and a grieving individual will experience a multitude of emotions and these emotions will last for no set amount of time. In my opinion, nobody gets over the death of a loved one, but learns to deal with it. However, for some people, grief becomes their identity. They find it hard to do anything but focus on their grief. They have a hard time taking care of themselves or other people. For some they can’t see that they can ever be happy again. For some people they cannot accept the reality of the loss and aren’t able to take steps towards healing. They have a hard time living a meaningful like without their loved one and they find it difficult to find ways to keep a connection to their loved one. For some individuals they avoid people, places and things and even certain dates and this can negatively impact them being able to move towards healing. Avoidance can hinder the grief process. The above symptoms are what I believe complicated grief looks like.
I do not feel there is a timetable on grief. The above definition states that it must be a minimum of six months. In my opinion six months isn’t that long. I have worked with many individuals where they get through the first year and are doing better, but I have also worked with many that believe the second year is worse than the first year. In my opinion it is important to look at each individual person and determine if they are experiencing complicated grief. A parent whose young child died from suicide is going to grieve very differently than a grandchild whose Grandfather died of natural causes at age 95 and their timetable for investing fully in their life again is generally going to look different.
If you are wondering whether you are experiencing complicated grief or you are working with someone who may be experiencing complicated grief, this assessment tool is a great start to determining if that is the case.
If you have complicated grief what can you do?
· Find a good grief support group. Hospice offers free grief support groups to any member of the community
· Find a good therapist that has experience with complicated grief. Ask specifically if they have experience with the type of loss you are experiencing especially if it was from suicide or substance abuse.
· Find a therapist that has received training from the Center for Complicated Grief through Columbia University. https://complicatedgrief.columbia.edu/for-the-public/find-a-therapist/
· Reach out to Greater Life Health & Hypnosis and find out how we can help you through complicated grief.
Our next topic in this blog series will focus on the difference between grief and depression.