‘Complicated’ Grief After Losing A Loved One Poses Serious Health Risks

grief losing loved one

Losing a loved one naturally results in grief. The feelings can vary from person to person, but common feelings are those of sadness, emptiness, or even anger.

Grief can last for weeks, months, or years. It can come and go like the tides of the ocean. Losing a loved one can be tricky, painful, and create surprising revelations about oneself. Sometimes people find a strength in themselves they never knew they had, while others find their grief takes over their very thoughts and actions.

According to the New York Times, Dr. M. Katherine Shear of the Columbia University School of Social Work and College of Physicians and Surgeons describes a form of grief in the extreme, known as complicated grief, which can cause serious health problems. Complicated grief is the intense reaction to the loss of a loved one which persists for more than six months.

The intense form of grief can include severe emotional pain, the inability to believe or accept the loved one has passed away, no longer feeling that life is meaningful without the loved one, and many unwanted thoughts and painful memories about the person who is gone.

“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.”

Newsmax reports that complicated grief can happen to those who experience a loss suddenly or in expected situations, but violent and sudden deaths seem to trigger complicated grief more frequently. It commonly occurs with people who lose a child or those who lose a romantic partner. According to Dr. Shear, women older than 60 are the most likely to experience complicated grief.

“Complicated grief is like a wound that doesn’t heal and can follow the loss of any close relationship.”

Not only does this type of grief result in unpleasant feelings and isolation, studies have shown it results in neuropsychological abnormalities which can affect memory and the ability to control one’s emotions. Left untreated, the grief can lead to substance abuse, suicidal actions or thoughts, and immunologic abnormalities. Prolonged sleep disturbances are common in people with untreated complicated grief.

People suffering from untreated complicated grief after losing a loved one can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Although many people are prescribed antidepressants, Dr. Shear believes cognitive behavioral therapy sessions will be more successful to help grieving patients overcome the worst of their grief in the least amount of time. Patients are encouraged to “reinvent their lives by revising goals and making plans” positively without experiencing the intense feelings of grief like they initially felt after losing their loved ones.

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