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Grief

  • Definition
    • Grief is a reaction to a major loss of someone or something. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion.

  • Alternative Names
    • Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement

  • Causes
    • Grief may be triggered by the death of a loved one. People also can experience grief if they have an illness for which there is no cure, or a chronic condition that affects their quality of life. The end of a significant relationship may also cause grieving.

      Everyone feels grief in their own way. But there are common stages to the process of mourning. It starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss.

      People's responses to grief will be different, depending on the circumstances of the death. For example, if the person who died had a chronic illness, the death may have been expected. The end of the person's suffering might even have come as a relief. If the death was accidental or violent, coming to a stage of acceptance might take longer.

  • Symptoms
    • One way to describe grief is in five stages. These reactions might not occur in a specific order, and can occur together. Not everyone experiences all of these emotions:

      • Denial, disbelief, numbness
      • Anger, blaming others
      • Bargaining (for instance, "If I am cured of this cancer, I will never smoke again.")
      • Depressed mood, sadness, and crying
      • Acceptance, coming to terms

      People who are grieving may have crying spells, trouble sleeping, and lack of productivity at work.

  • Exams and Tests
    • Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms, including your sleep and appetite. Symptoms that last for a while may lead to clinical depression.

  • Treatment
    • Family and friends can offer emotional support during the grieving process. Sometimes outside factors can affect the normal grieving process, and people might need help from:

      • Clergy
      • Mental health specialists
      • Social workers
      • Support groups

      The acute phase of grief often lasts up to 2 months. Milder symptoms may last for a year or longer. Psychological counseling may help a person who is unable to face the loss (absent grief reaction), or who has depression with grieving.

  • Support Groups
    • Joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems and help relieve the stress from grieving especially if you have lost a child or spouse.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • It may take a year or longer to overcome strong feelings of grief and to accept the loss.

  • Possible Complications
    • Complications that may result from ongoing grief include:

      • Drug or alcohol use
      • Depression
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your provider if:

      • You can't deal with grief
      • You are using excessive amounts of drugs or alcohol
      • You become very depressed
      • You have long-term depression that interferes with your daily life
  • Prevention
    • Grief should not be prevented because it is a healthy response to loss. Instead, it should be respected. Those who are grieving should have support to help them through the process.

  • References
    • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

      Powell AD. Grief, bereavement, and adjustment disorders. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 38.