While grief is a natural human process, there comes a point where grief impedes your ability to live a full and healthy life. The grieving process can involve numerous emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral reactions.

Healing from grief involves gradually coming to terms with the loss and adjusting to a new reality without the presence of what was lost, allowing for a continuation of life with a sense of peace and acceptance.

At Elevate Psychiatry, we understand that dealing with grief is a complicated and strenuous process. Our team is fully equipped to help you process grief, aiding you in finding solace and peace.

Basics of Grief

Experiencing a loss or a traumatic event naturally triggers grief, a powerful and sometimes overwhelming emotion. It can vary widely among people, highlighting the unique nature of the grieving process with no set pattern or guide.

Events such as the passing of someone close, job loss, receiving a terminal diagnosis, relationship breakups, or discovering a disability or chronic illness can all lead to grief. This emotional state often plunges people into profound sadness, a sense of numbness, and a feeling of detachment from normal life and connections with others.

While the duration of grief can extend over a significant period for many, instances where the struggle with grief becomes overwhelming can severely disrupt one's daily life. Mental health experts frequently describe these intense cases as complicated grief.

Symptoms of Grief

Since grief manifests in unique ways for everyone, it's challenging to outline a definitive list of grief symptoms. However, many people may encounter one or several of the following indicators while in mourning:

  • Intense sadness
  • Feelings of numbness
  • Self-isolation
  • Disinterest in everyday life
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation
  • Feelings of denial, anger, or resentment
  • Difficulty completing daily tasks, including personal care, work, etc.
  • Inability to enjoy previously enjoyed hobbies or daily activities

Grief can also manifest itself in physical symptoms in the form of:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite, nausea
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping

Stages of Grief

The stages of grief, as popularized by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying," describe the process of coping with loss. It's important to note that not everyone experiences all these stages, nor do they necessarily occur in a linear order. 

The five stages of grief are:

  1. Denial: This first stage helps to minimize the overwhelming pain of loss. People in denial may find it hard to believe the loss has occurred, feeling numb or disconnected from reality. It's a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock.
  2. Anger: As the masking effects of denial begin to wear off, the pain re-emerges, and the person grieving may feel angry. This anger could be directed at inanimate objects, strangers, friends, or family. Anger might even be directed at the deceased. Underneath this anger is the pain of loss.
  3. Bargaining: During this stage, people may dwell on what they could have done differently to prevent the loss. Bargaining often involves making a deal with a higher power in an attempt to reverse or lessen the loss. People may ruminate on the "if only" statements, reflecting on different scenarios that could have led to a different outcome.
  4. Depression: This stage is marked by a deep sense of sorrow as the reality of the loss sets in. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a diminished appetite. People may isolate themselves, reflecting on their grief and the impact of the loss on their lives.
  5. Acceptance: The final stage involves coming to terms with the reality of the loss and accepting it. Acceptance doesn't mean being okay with the loss but rather acknowledging it and understanding that it cannot be changed. In this stage, people begin to adjust to life without their loved ones, finding ways to move forward.

Kübler-Ross later clarified that these stages are not a rigid framework everyone must pass through in order. Instead, they are a guide to the grieving process that highlights common responses to loss. People's experiences with grief can vary significantly, with some not experiencing all stages or experiencing them in a different order.

Types of Grief

Grief is a complex emotional response to loss, and it can manifest in various forms, each with its unique characteristics and coping mechanisms. Here are some of the different types of grief:

  1. Normal grief: This type encompasses the feelings and behaviors commonly experienced after a loss. It includes stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, as proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, though not everyone experiences all stages or in a linear progression.
  2. Complicated grief: This form of grief is longer-lasting and more severe, interfering with someone's ability to function in daily life. Symptoms may include intense longing for the deceased, severe emotional pain, and difficulty accepting the loss. This type of grief is likely to persist for an extended period.
  3. Anticipatory grief: This occurs before a loss happens, especially in situations where a loved one is terminally ill. It involves grieving the anticipated loss and can include feelings of sadness, worry, and preparing oneself emotionally for the impending death.
  4. Disenfranchised grief: This type of grief is experienced when a person's experience of grief is not acknowledged or validated by the larger society. Examples include the loss of a pet, a miscarriage, or the end of a non-marital relationship. Since these losses are not always recognized by others as significant, the person who experienced the loss may feel isolated and unable to express their grief openly.
  5. Cumulative grief: This happens when multiple losses occur in a short period, overwhelming a person's ability to process their emotions. The grief can compound, making each subsequent loss harder to deal with.
  6. Delayed grief: In some cases, a person might not initially feel the impact of a loss. The full extent of their grief may surface weeks, months, or even years later, often triggered by another event.
  7. Chronic grief: This refers to the prolonged experience of grief symptoms without them lessening over time. A person continues to experience intense grief long after the loss has occurred.
  8. Absent grief: This is when someone does not show or experience the expected symptoms of grief after a loss. It might be because they are not processing their grief, or they may be unconsciously avoiding the pain associated with it.
  9. Masked grief: Symptoms of grief are present but are attributed to other causes. The grieving person may not recognize that their difficulties are related to a loss.

Diagnosing Grief

Grief itself is not officially diagnosed as a medical condition because it's a natural and expected response to loss.

There are no set rules for how long or how intensely someone may grieve. Mental health professionals commonly define complicated grief as persistent and pervasive, interfering with daily life for over a year following a traumatic event.

It is important to understand that much like grief itself, the diagnosis of complicated grief is highly individualized. In some cases, complicated grief and clinical depression occur simultaneously, regardless of the amount of time that has passed.

The diagnostic process for complicated grief or related conditions generally involves:

  1. Clinical Interview: A mental health professional will conduct a thorough interview with you, asking about your experiences, symptoms, the nature of the loss, and how the grief has impacted your daily life. This helps to understand the grief's depth, duration, and intensity.
  2. Assessment Tools: Specific assessment tools and questionnaires are designed to measure symptoms of complicated grief. These tools help in distinguishing normal grief from more severe forms that may require intervention.
  3. Symptom Criteria: For a diagnosis of complicated grief, mental health professionals refer to criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals, such as the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) or ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision). 
  4. Ruling Out Other Conditions: The mental health professional will also assess whether your grief-related symptoms are better explained by other mental health conditions, such as major depressive disorder, PTSD, or an anxiety disorder, and whether these conditions are co-occurring.
  5. Consideration of Cultural, Social, and Personal Factors: Understanding your cultural background, social support system, and personal resilience factors is crucial, as these can influence the grieving process and help differentiate between normal and complicated grief.

Treatment of Grief

If you find yourself burdened by the weight of grief, facing both emotional and physical symptoms, Elevate Psychiatry is here to assist. 

There's no need to wait for your circumstances to intensify before seeking support. Taking the step to reach out for help can be a profoundly effective method for managing your grief.

At Elevate Psychiatry, we prioritize a personalized treatment plan for each person grappling with grief, understanding that each journey through sorrow is unique. Our comprehensive approach to care might encompass the following components:

  • Talk Therapy: Talk therapy helps you with grief through engaging in one-on-one counseling or group therapy sessions, providing a safe space to express feelings, process loss, and learn coping strategies to navigate through grief.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment of Co-occurring Mental Health Issues: We recognize that grief can often coexist with other mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. We offer thorough assessments to identify concurrent issues and develop a tailored treatment plan that addresses the grief and any additional diagnoses.

This multifaceted approach ensures our patients receive the support and care needed to heal and find a path forward through their grief.

Managing Grief with Elevate Psychiatry

At Elevate Psychiatry, our team of doctors and certified mental health professionals work with you to process grief and regain control of your life.

Your experience is unique to you, and we will help you find a restorative path that best suits your needs. 

Book an appointment online or get in touch with us at one of our three locations:

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