Prolonged Grief Disorder: What it Is and How to Know the Signs

sad woman

May 23, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Adam Sagot, D.O.

Prolonged grief disorder, although newly classified, is a condition that many can identify with–– and it is now fully recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and other health

organizations.

This recognition will allow the condition to qualify for insurance coverage and other supportive funding. “Most importantly, it will give the opportunity to receive much-needed help for those who have experienced debilitating emotions following loss,” says Adam Sagot, D.O.  

Many who experience prolonged grief disorder are consumed by their loss. The disorder is most common in those who have suddenly or unexpectedly lost a loved one. It affects 1 in 10 individuals. 

Signs of Prolonged Grief Disorder

The loss of a loved one, whether sudden or from a progressive medical condition, can be complex and difficult to process and navigate. “The loss can spark lingering, pervasive thoughts––and often causes those affected to withdraw from regular activities, neglect their health, participate in unhealthy coping mechanisms, and detach from their day to day lives,” says Dr. Sagot.

Signs of prolonged grief disorder may include:

  • Intense emotional distress, sadness and loneliness persisting for 6 months or longer
  • Denial or immense difficulty accepting loss
  • Loss of purpose or drive in your personal life
  • Difficulty moving on with life (socializing with friends, planning for the future, etc.)
  • Emotional numbness

Prolonged grief disorder might be confused with depression. But depression involves feelings of detached or generalized sadness and loss of interest, while prolonged grief disorder involves constant longing for someone who has died. 

Treatment for Prolonged Grief Disorder 

“The emotions that accompany mourning and bereavement are valid and important to a healthy grieving process. When these feelings overwhelm someone, feel impossible to process and prevent finding joy in life, successful treatment is possible. There are very practical, scientifically-based treatments and coping skills to help those in need through the process,” says Dr. Sagot. 

Treatment and counseling for prolonged grief disorder adapts to the needs of the individual, but it generally focuses on psychological and social functioning and development after loss—because prolonged grief disorder affects so much of our functionality.

Prolonged grief disorder therapy may focus on:

  • Understanding attachment within relationships
  • Regulating cognitive and emotional processes
  • Understanding and managing behaviors in close relationships and social settings 
  • Reinforcing processes of making and managing choices

“Losing a loved one is one of the most heartbreaking circumstances people can experience,” says Dr. Sagot. “If you are having prolonged difficulty navigating common stages of grief, or extended difficulty coping with emotions that pertain to loss, seek support by reaching out to your primary care physician or a mental health professional. They can help you process the complex emotions surrounding your loss, understand practical coping skills and move forward in your own life with more resilience, strength and support.”  

Next Steps & Resources:


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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