What Is Prolonged Grief Disorder?
Grief is never a quick, simple, or linear journey for anyone. Sometimes, however, grief can go on longer than is healthy or expected creating difficulties to regular life. Prolonged grief disorder is a relatively new concept and disorder that may happen to certain individuals during their grief journey.
Prolonged grief disorder can be diagnosed in adults if a person is still in intense grief a year after their loss. In children, this time period is only 6 months, and can be especially common after the loss of a primary caregiver. Understanding prolonged grief disorder allow you to find support for yourself or your grieving loved one.
Who Is Susceptible?
Prolonged grief disorder can happen to anyone, but certain people may be more likely to grieve longer than is healthy or expected. The closer you are to the person who has been lost, the more likely you will be to suffer from prolonged grief disorder. This might include losing a partner, caregiver, or child.
People who already suffer from depression or bipolar disorder are more susceptible, as are older adults or young children. The risk is also bigger when people lose someone suddenly or to suicide or other traumatic circumstances.
If you match any of these warning signs, it may be worth beginning to talk about your grief and working through it to make sure that you can grieve in a healthy way. Whether this is through support groups, talk therapy, or the support of friends and family, there are many ways to work through your grief before it gets to this extreme.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Prolonged grief disorder is an official diagnosis in the DSM-5 and can be diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The diagnosis can only happen for adults that have been grieving for a year or longer and who meet at least three of the following requirements.
- Identity disruption
- Marked sense of disbelief about the death
- Avoidance of reminders that the person is dead
- Intense emotional pain (such as anger, bitterness, sorrow) related to the death
- Difficulty with reintegration to social or workplace settings
- Emotional numbness
- Feeling that life is meaningless
- Intense loneliness or feelings of detachment
If you are starting to notice these warning signs in yourself or others, try talking to a mental health official to get a diagnosis or coping mechanisms for grief.
The symptoms in children may look different, since kids tend to have more intense emotional responses.
Symptoms for children or teens may include:
- Waiting for their deceased loved one to come back
- Becoming fearful others may die
- “Magical” thinking or separation anxiety
- Intense sadness or emotional pain through different moods
- Anger related to the death of a loved one shown through irritability, tantrums, or other behavior problems
What Are Treatment Options?
As the disorder gains recognition, it has been included in official diagnostic manuals from the American Psychologist Association and The World Health Organization. Grief therapists, psychiatrists and other officials are beginning to create therapy treatments specifically for prolonged grief disorder
PGD treatment may be found in talk therapists who specialize in grief and draws from treatments for other disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other treatments can come from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is one of the largest approaches to talk therapy for many different mental health issues. Many psychologists and psychiatrists will be licensed in CBT and able to individualize the process to help with grief.
CBT or PGD treatments can help not only with the seemingly normal parts of grief, but also with more complex symptoms like lack of sleep, decreased ability to socialize, and anxiety or depression symptoms.
Prolonged grief disorder, while a relatively new disorder, comes from a growing field of research and study. As the area becomes more and more recognized in the field of psychology, it’s important to know the signs of the disorder and how you can move through your grief journey healthily. Just like with other mental health issues and grief journeys, there is no shame in looking for you help you need to ensure healing.
This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Anna Steingruber. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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