The death of a loved one evokes painful emotions in all of us. In uncomplicated grief, a person who has suffered a loss experiences sadness and other difficult feelings, but can continue functioning in her everyday life. In more complicated grief, depression or anxiety emerge, leading to such symptoms as loss of interest and pleasure in one’s life, concentration difficulties, self-isolating behavior, irrational guilt and self-blame, and avoidance of reminders of the lost loved one. There is, clinically, no difference between prolonged intense grief and major depressive disorder. In addition, a person who is already struggling with depression will likely experience a worsening of their symptoms following the loss of a loved one.
Most people gradually feel the characteristics of grief lessen over time and find they can begin resuming natural routines and activities. Some people, however, experience “complicated grief” which includes symptoms that feel unmanageable and debilitating. People with complicated grief experience long-lasting painful emotions and often feel “stuck” in the same intense pain felt in the days immediately after the death of a loved one. Certain kinds of mental health treatment have been shown to help people with complicated grief. Treatment is important because people with complicated grief are at risk for worsening emotional and mental illness. Professional therapy, coping skills, and when needed, medications can help.