When to Seek Help
It is normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following a loss. But as time passes, these feelings should become less intense as you begin to accept the loss and start to move forward. There are times when grief does not progress as expected. If you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem such as complicated grief or depression.
The sadness of losing someone or something meaningful never completely goes away, but it shouldn’t remain center stage in your life. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from complicated grief. Complicated grief is like an extreme state of mourning in which the intensity and length of grief is prolonged. During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade, those of complicated grief get worse or linger. Complicated grief is so consuming that it may disrupt your daily routine and interfere with other relationships. People experiencing complicated grief may also have symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Symptoms of complicated grief:
- Extreme focus on the loss and reminders of the loved one
- Intense longing or pining for the deceased
- Problems accepting the death
- Numbness or detachment
- Preoccupation with your sorrow
- Bitterness about your loss
- Inability to enjoy life
- Depression or deep sadness
- Difficulty moving on with life
- Trouble carrying out normal routines
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
- Irritability or agitation
- Lack of trust in others
Difference between grief and depression
Depression and grief have many of the same symptoms and telling the difference may be difficult. Grief is a roller coast of feelings and involves both good and bad days. Even in the middle of the grieving process, you will have moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.
Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief:
- Intense, pervasive sense of guilt
- Thoughts of suicide, dying or hurting yourself
- Slow speech and body movements
- Inability to function at work, home, and/or school
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
When to seek professional help for grief
It's normal to experience grief after a significant loss. Most people who experience normal or uncomplicated grief can move forward eventually with support from family and friends. But if it's been several months or more since your loss and your emotions remain so intense or debilitating that you have trouble going about your normal routine, talk to your health care provider.
If you feel you are experiencing any of the symptoms of complicated grief or depression, it is important to seek help right away so treatment can be started to help you get better. Some good sources of help include your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Contact your local healthcare provider if you are concerned or refer to our resources section for links to other professionals in the St. Cloud Community.
Contact a health care provider or mental health professional if you:
- Can focus on little else but your loved one's death
- Have persistent pining or longing for the deceased person
- Have thoughts of guilt or self-blame
- Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
- Feel as if life isn't worth living
- Have lost your sense of purpose in life
- Wish you had died along with your loved one
At times, people with complicated grief may consider suicide. If you're considering suicide, reach out to someone as soon as possible. The best choice is to call 911 or your local emergency services number.
Coping and support
Although it's important to get professional treatment for complicated grief, you can take steps on your own to cope, including:
- Stick to your treatment plan. Take medications as directed and attend therapy appointments as scheduled.
- Exercise regularly. Physical exercise helps relieve depression, stress and anxiety and can redirect your mind to the activity at hand.
- Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat a balanced diet and take time to relax. Don't turn to alcohol or illicit drugs for relief.
- Reach out to your faith community. If you follow religious practices or traditions, you may gain comfort from rituals or guidance from a spiritual leader.
- Practice stress management. Learn how to better manage stress. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
- Socialize. Stay connected with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or a joke to give you a little boost.
- Plan ahead for special dates or anniversaries. Holidays, anniversaries and special occasions can trigger painful reminders of your loved one. Find new ways to celebrate or acknowledge your loved one that provide you comfort and hope.
- Learn new skills. If you were highly dependent on your loved one, perhaps to handle the cooking or finances, for example, try to master these tasks yourself. Ask family, friends or professionals for guidance, if necessary. Seek out community classes and resources, too.
- Join a support group. You may not be ready to join a support group immediately after your loss, but over time you may find shared experiences comforting and you may form meaningful new relationships.