There is no definite point in time or a list of symptoms that define
grief. Unresolved grief lasts longer than usual for a
person’s social circle or cultural background. It may also be used to describe
grief that does not go away or interferes with the person’s ability to take
care of daily responsibilities.
Unresolved grief tends to be more common in people who:
Are unsure how they feel about the person they lost.
Have a negative opinion of
themselves (low self-esteem).
Feel guilty about the loss, such as
people who think they could have prevented a serious accident or
Think the loss was a result of unfairness, such as losing a loved one as a result of a violent
Experience a loss that others might not recognize as
significant, such as miscarriage.
How people express unresolved grief varies. People may:
Act as though nothing has changed. They may
refuse to talk about the loss.
Become preoccupied with the memory
of the lost person. They may not be able to talk or think about
Become overly involved with work or a
Drink more alcohol, smoke more cigarettes, or take
Become overly concerned about their health
in general or about an existing health condition and see a doctor
more often than usual.
Become progressively depressed or isolate
themselves from other people.
In addition to the list above, teens may show unresolved grief by
using illegal drugs, taking part in illegal activities (such as stealing), or
having unprotected sex. They may also become more accident-prone, avoid their
friends, and have difficulty completing school work.
Young children may show unresolved grief by developing behavior
problems or expressing fears about being alone, especially at night.
People with unresolved grief who do not seek treatment are more
likely to develop complications such as depression as a result of
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ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD – Internal Medicine Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerJean S. Kutner, MD, MSPH – Geriatric Medicine, Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine