Is prolonged grief a mental disorder?

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under DEPRESSION

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Resource post for June

heart_of_daisiesIt can happen to anybody – losing a loved one – a child, a partner/spouse, a sibling, a parent. We grieve because grief is an extension of our capacity to love as human beings. But after some time we have to move on and carry on with our lives. The intensity of grief lessens, the pain starts to heal. But what if it doesn’t?

There are cases when grief just wouldn’t go away and remains unresolved for months, and even years. This what experts call Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) or Complicated Grief.


It seems that PGD is a form of depression associated with bereavement. The feelings of grief of people with PGD extend six months or longer after the bereavement (“separation distress”) and can manifest in cognitive, emotional and behavioural Symptoms.

According to the Grief-Healing Support Group, PGD is characterized by the following symptoms:

Those suffering from PGD become socially withdrawn and suffer not only from poor mental but also physical health outcomes.


Studies have shown that 10 to 15% of people who have experienced bereavement suffer from PGD, and become severely depressed or even suicidal. In African Americans, the incidence pf PGD is even higher – up to 21%.


It has only been recently that PGD was recognized as a psychiatric disorder in its own right. With it came also possible therapies and treatments that can help the patients. There are those who believe, however, that grief shouldn’t be “medicalized” or “labelled as a disorder.”

The table below gives an overview of the treatment strategies for PGD (source:

Treatment Strategies

Learning to be mindful Buddhist teachings and meditations talk of mindfulness and how we can pay attention to our life in the moment, with intention and without judgement. Echhart Tolle teaches us to have a pain free life by living fully in the present –The Power of Now – a guide to spiritual enlightenment
Managing Stress Managing the fight-or-flight response. As we have to deal with one of life’s greatest stress events we are aslo encountering other grief related as well as normal life stressful events and situations
Solving Problems A simple yet structured approach to identifying issues, searching for options and working on possible solutions
Setting Goals Even at times of great pain there are things we may want or need to achieve in life. It may be to reduce our current levels of pain, or to become financially secure
Managing Emotions and Anger We may feel that our emotional responses are out of our control. However, there are some strategies we can use to control emotions and make life easier for ourselves and for others
Relaxation Techniques Some of these ideas may help you to relax. How relaxed are you at the moment? What is your mind doing? Where are your thoughts? What is your body doing?
Dealing with Conflict There are different levels and degrees of conflict. The grief period is a time of mixed and difficult emotions, consequently we may become more susceptible to conflict situations
Scheduling Enjoyable activities We have just lost someone very close to us, perhaps our partner or companion. It is important that we now schedule to do something that will bring us joy and fill some of the space
Improving Sleep A good sleeping pattern is crucial for normal healthy functioning. Are you getting adequate and restful sleep?
Understanding Anxiety A feeling of dread, fear, or worry. We all experience anxiety at some time or another, but when anxiety becomes too severe it can interfere with everyday functioning

 Remember, it is normal to grieve but when grief becomes prolonged and rules your life, then it’s time to seek professional help.depression


Photo credit: stock.xchng

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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