Persistent 'Complicated' Grief Related To Bereavement Can Cause Health Problems

| by Khier Casino

People grieve for different reasons, whether it's the loss of a loved one, getting laid off from work or suffering from an illness. But if the negative feelings persist far longer than expected, you may experience what is known as "complicated grief."

Complicated grief is an extreme reaction to the loss of a loved one, which can result in serious health risks and persists for more than six months, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

M. Katherine Shear of the Columbia School of Social Work says complicated grief afflicts 10 to 20 percent of those who lose a spouse or a child and more likely if the death is sudden or violent. It is most common among women over the age of 60.

Complicated grief results in neuropsychological abnormalities in autobiographical memory, parts of the brain that regulate emotion and other areas, which can be seen on an MRI. Those who suffer from complicated grief have long-term health issues, such as substance abuse, sleep disturbances, heart problems and even cancer.

“People with complicated grief often feel shocked, stunned or emotionally numb, and they may become estranged from others because of the belief that happiness is inextricably tied to the person who died,” Dr. Shear told The New York Times. “Complicated grief is like a wound that doesn’t heal and can follow the loss of any close relationship.”

While some people are prescribed antidepressants to get through complicated grief, others go for psychological therapy, Shear said.

However, there are currently no professional guidelines for treating a person with complicated grief, and doctors do not agree on the criteria for diagnosis.

Sources: Rare, The New York Times / Photo Credit: MarLeah ColeAlex/Flickr Creative Commons