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What is prolonged grief?

July 23, 2022

what is prolonged Grief?

how long is too long to grief?

by Jamal Ross

Life has highs and lows. Some of the lowest points in our life involves loss of something or someone that is close to our hearts. Grief is a common reaction to a life circumstance. There are times when grief can be prolonged and debilitating. This is called prolonged grief disorder. Whereas acute grief is normal and should improve within months, prolonged grief is a psychologic condition and can last years. Let find out more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of prolong grief disorder. More importantly, we will discover what the bible says about our recovery from grief.

Prolonged grief disorder, also known as complicated grief, involves intense, persistent and pervasive feelings of emotional pain that lasts at least 6 months or a year after a loss. Complicated grief can last years or decades. When complicated grief occurs, it tends to be caused by the loss of a loved one. On the other hand, complicated grief can also occur in the settings of other meaningful losses, such as a divorce, loss of a job or a pet. Survivors of natural disasters also experience prolonged grief. Those who have lost a child or a loved one to accidents, homicides or wars tend to have the highest rates of prolonged grief disorder. (1) Those with prolonged grief are at risk for developing major depressive disorder.

Similar to normal grief, the symptoms of prolonged grief disorder include feeling related to separation and traumatic distress, as well as an inability to explore the world. With separation distress, there is an intense yearning and preoccupation for a loved one who as passed away. This is intermixed with feelings of sorrow, guilt and frustration. With traumatic distress, disbelief predominates. There are feeling of being stunned of dazed. Finally, with an inability to explore the world, some have a difficult time imagining life without a loved one or relationship. There is a loss of interest in going out. There is a feeling of being disconnected from others (1)

Prolong grief should be treated with counseling. Motivational interviewing and positive psychology are come techniques can be used during therapy. The goal of therapy is for an acceptance of the reality of a death with focusing on restoration. Restoration involves regaining a sense of purpose while thriving in a world without those we love or a relationship we valued. With restoration, at least one close relationship should be formed and a feeling of belonging established. (2)

How long is too long to grieve? It depends. By 6 months, we should be well on our way to recovering form grief. After a year, we should have some sense of belonging, adaptation and a purposeful life without a loved one or relationship. Remember, “The people of Israel mourned for Moses on the plains of Moab for thirty days, until the customary period of mourning was over.” (Deuteronomy 34:8) In order words, we should not grieve for years on end. Set a time limit for yourself. There is a time and place to grieve and mourn, but choose to live a purpose filled with joy despite your losses. God does not want us to carry the burden of grief and sadness forever. Even this we can give to him.  In exchange, you will find strength, maturity and wisdom in a loss that you can then share with the world. So live, choose to form new relationships and believe the best is still ahead!

1. Shear K. Prolonged grief disorder in adults: Epidemiology, clinical features, assessment, and diagnosis. In: UpToDate, Solomon D. (Eds), UpToDate, Waltham, MA (Assessed July 21, 2022)
2. Shear K. Prolonged grief disorder in adults: Treatment. In: UpToDate, Solomon D. (Eds), UpToDate, Waltham, MA (Assessed July 21, 2022)

Jamal Ross

Dr. Jamal Ross is an internist and pediatrician who possesses a passion for prayer and preventative medicine. He has worked in the fields of primary care and hospital medicine.

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