Signs and Symptoms of Complicated Grief

Complicated grief must be diagnosed with care.  Many of us do not function well when facing a loss, and there is no timetable for grieving. Different cultures have their own expectations and norms about  bereavement, and there is no “right way” to mourn. Hopefully this list of possible symptoms will be helpful in determining if you or a loved one might benefit from being assessed for complicated grief.

When someone has complicated grief, their functioning has become significantly impaired due to grief symptoms. What does “significant impairment” look like? It essentially means that the person’s grief symptoms are getting in their way and not allowing them to function well, either at work, at home, or socially.

A quick note of caution: All of the feelings and behaviors listed below as potential symptoms of complicated grief are often seen in non-complicated grief. They only become signs of complicated grief when they are causing ongoing impairment to a person’s daily functioning, and when they are occurring at least six months after a loss. The impairment must last for at least one month or longer. Here is a list of some of the possible signs and symptoms:

  • Symptoms of acute grief, such as intense longing for the deceased and loneliness; intrusive or preoccupying thoughts about the deceased; thoughts that life is unbearable or meaningless without the deceased; feelings of hopelessness; suicidal thoughts, or a desire to die to follow the deceased
  • Avoidance of reminders of the deceased;  for example, driving a longer route to work to avoid passing a certain place which is a reminder of the deceased
  • Excessive seeking of reminders of the deceased
  • Intrusive or perseverating thoughts about the death or its consequences (such as thinking over the death circumstances repeatedly, and how there could have a different outcome; or recurring thoughts about how one cannot cope with the loss)
  • Feelings of shock, disbelief, anger, or numbness
  • Difficulty trusting, or connecting to others
  • An inability to enjoy life or to invest in the present

Again, many of us have experienced some or all of these symptoms after a loss without having complicated grief.  If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing complicated grief it is important to be screened and to seek help. Please go to the Resources page for possible sources of support.