Understanding Prolonged Grief Disorder


When a loved one dies, it’s normal to go through a period of grief, which can include deep mourning and extreme sadness. While coping with grief usually gets easier over time, some people experience periods of intense and sustained anguish, known as prolonged grief. We’ll explain what prolonged grief is, its symptoms and how you can treat it.

What is Prolonged Grief Disorder?

Grief is a natural response to loss, whether it’s the death or anticipated loss of a loved one. For most, the symptoms of grief become easier to cope with over time. But for some people, intense feelings of grief can persist for months with symptoms so severe it becomes difficult for them to live their lives. These overwhelming feelings are characteristic of prolonged grief disorder, sometimes called complicated grief, where grief is so strong and enduring that it interferes with a person’s ability to live their daily life. Generally, prolonged grief is experienced between six and 12 months after losing a loved one.


Prolonged Grief Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of prolonged grief may include:

· Feeling that part of you has died

· Disbelief about the individual’s death

· Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

· Withdrawing from interests and hobbies

· Inability to return to work or school

· Isolation and distancing from friends and family

· Strong feelings of anger or bitterness


Remember that symptoms will vary from one person to another, so prolonged grief may display differently for you or someone you care about.


If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is at immediate risk of hurting themselves, please call 911. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988.


Prolonged Grief Disorder in the DSM

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) added prolonged grief disorder to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in March 2022. This recognition allows for a shared understanding of the condition and empowers mental health professionals, patients and families to understand how typical grief presents itself and what might indicate a longer-term prolonged grief diagnosis.


Prolonged Grief Disorder vs. Depression

Depression is a mood disorder that negatively impacts how one feels, thinks and acts. There are many different types of depression, and the causes vary with each one.


Prolonged grief disorder is caused by the death of someone close to you. While it’s expected that the bereaved will go through some or all of the stages of grief, prolonged grief tends to have an enduring grip that can last months after a loved one’s passing. Usually, prolonged grief occurs after the loss of a child or romantic partner, as well as sudden, traumatic deaths from violence, accidents or illness.


Since this disorder is most commonly seen in those who have experienced a traumatic loss, people with prolonged grief are more prone to have other mental health conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.


How to Cope with Prolonged Grief Disorder

If you’re worried that you or a loved one has prolonged grief disorder, it’s important to speak to a medical professional like a doctor or mental health clinician. They can prescribe treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been proven effective in treating prolonged grief disorders.


With CBT, you’ll work with a mental health clinician to identify the situations you struggle with the most. Then, you’ll work through your thoughts, emotions and beliefs surrounding the situation to recognize and reshape negative and inaccurate thoughts. Over time, this process can help reduce the intensity of symptoms and be a helpful tool for dealing with other stressors.


Many people coping with prolonged grief also turn to bereavement support groups, which can be a source of support and social connection. Read more about how to find grief and bereavement support groups.


At The Love Always Project, we understand that grieving varies from person to person. Access our grief, loss and bereavement resources to help you navigate these complex emotions. Learn more about our mission to help others discuss end-of-life issues or join the movement.


If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is at immediate risk of hurting themselves, please call 911. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988.