Navigating complicated grief: Recognizing signs and risks

Grieving is a deeply personal process. Most people can find ways to carry on.  However, for some, the journey becomes so overwhelming that it hurts their ability to make healthy choices for themselves.

This is known as complicated grief. By knowing the signs and risks, you can seek support and healing.

Understanding the signs of complicated grief

There is no timeline for grief. But if you’ve been “stuck” in grief for more than a few months, consider these warning signs:

  • Long-lasting and intense emotions that do not ease over time. Nonstop anger, bitterness, guilt and fear can make it difficult to find relief and move forward.
  • Intrusive thoughts. Constant thoughts about the person you lost may make it hard to focus on other things.
  • Struggling to accept that your loved one is gone. You may find it hard to believe in the reality of their absence, or you may fantasize about them coming back to you.
  • Isolation. Complicated grief can cause you to withdraw from social activities and isolate yourself. You may feel disconnected and find it challenging to engage with people.
  • Longing to be with the person you lost. If this becomes all-consuming or escalates to thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately!

Could you be at risk?

Factors that raise the risk of complicated grief include:

  • Experiencing more than one loss in a short period.
  • Sudden, unexpected or traumatic loss.
  • Not having enough support or a strong social network.
  • History of mental illness — especially depression, anxiety or PTSD.
  • Having a challenging or unresolved relationship with the person you lost.
  • Lacking healthy coping mechanisms for stress.
  • Having a substance use disorder.

If you need help

If you find yourself experiencing intense and prolonged grief, characterized by overwhelming yearning, persistent emotional pain, difficulty accepting the loss, social withdrawal, or any other signs mentioned, it is crucial to reach out for help.

Remember, you don’t have to face complicated grief alone. Consider seeking support from mental health professionals, grief counselors, support groups or a trusted faith leader in your life who can understand and guide you. Salem Health offers an updated list of grief resources for the public.

Reach out for support so others can join your journey toward healing. With time, understanding and appropriate support, it is possible to find a renewed sense of peace and acceptance.