Topic Overview

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 the unexpected or violent death of a loved one.
    People who experience a traumatic loss are at risk for developing
    post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • 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
    anything else.
  • Become overly involved with work or a
  • Drink more alcohol, smoke more cigarettes, or take
    more medicines.
  • 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 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