Topic Overview

Complications that can develop from
grieving include depression, anxiety, suicidal
thoughts, and physical illness. If you or someone you know experiences any of
the following problems, contact a doctor or mental health
professional for counseling, medicine, or both.


Depression is the most common condition that can
develop when a person is grieving. Depression is common in adults who
experience a divorce or death of a spouse.

High levels of anxiety

Anxiety also is common during the grieving process.
But anxiety can last longer than expected. And it can also become intense
and include extreme guilt. Anxiety can:

  • Make you feel like you are losing control of
    your emotions. Overwhelming fear is also common.
  • Trigger episodes
    of physical symptoms (anxiety attacks) that you might mistake for a heart
    attack. During an anxiety attack, you are likely to have a feeling of intense
    fear or terror, difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, heartbeat
    changes, dizziness, sweating, and shaking.

Suicidal thoughts

Sometimes when grieving, people have thoughts of ending their own
lives. If you have been depressed or have had thoughts of suicide in the past, you
may be vulnerable to having suicidal thoughts while grieving.

or other emergency services immediately if you or someone you know is

Any thoughts of suicide must be taken seriously. The threat of
carrying out the plan is very real if a person is thinking about
suicide and:

  • Has the means (such as weapons or medicines)
    available to harm himself or herself or do harm to another person.
  • Has set a
    time and place to end his or her own life.
  • Thinks that there is no other way
    to end his or her pain.

Physical illness

Grieving stresses the body, weakens the
immune system, and in general makes us more prone to
illness, aches, and pains. People who have chronic medical conditions may have
a recurrence or their symptoms may get worse when they are grieving. Adults
who lose a loved one sometimes develop new health problems. Children can also have stress-induced physical problems while grieving, despite
their youth and apparent resilience.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

People who experience a traumatic loss are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is an
intense emotional and psychological response to a very disturbing or traumatic
event, such as a rape, assault, natural disaster, accident, war, torture, or
death. You can develop PTSD symptoms immediately following such an event. Or PTSD
may develop months or even years later.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may include:

  • Persistent and painful re-experiencing of the
    event through dreams (nightmares) or while awake
  • Emotional numbness, or inability to feel or express
    emotions toward family, friends, and loved ones.
  • Avoiding any
    reminders of the event.
  • Being easily angered or aroused, “on edge,”
    or easily startled (hyperarousal).

Counseling and medicines (such as antidepressants and antianxiety
medicines) can be helpful for people who have post-traumatic stress

Complicated grief

Complicated grief may also be called persistent complex bereavement disorder, separation trauma, traumatic grief, or
prolonged-acute grief.

Symptoms include:

  • A preoccupation with the loved
  • Excessive loneliness.
  • Longing and yearning for the
    loved one.
  • Difficulty doing everyday things without the loved one.

Complicated grief is different from post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD). With PTSD, a person is anxious and fearful that the traumatic event
that caused the loss will occur again. In complicated grief, anxiety results
because the person is searching and yearning for his or her loved one.

If you or someone you know has symptoms of complicated grief, seek
help from a professional counselor specializing in grief counseling.

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD – Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jean S. Kutner, MD, MSPH – Geriatric Medicine,
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine

Current as ofOctober 6, 2017