Grief – it’s an inevitable and painful part of life. Losing a loved one, no matter how old you are when it happens, understandably alters your life. The pain and loss you feel are immediate and can linger for weeks, months, years, and longer. The emotionally devastating grieving journey you experience is called “bereavement.” While difficult, it’s completely natural and even healthy for you to grieve.
Bereavement and depression go hand in hand. It’s natural to experience at least some symptoms of depression when you lose a loved one. But what if there is “more” to your grief? What if it completely alters how you live your daily life for years to come?
This is something called prolonged grief disorder (PGD), otherwise known as complicated depression. And it’s vital to recognize if you or someone you love is at risk for or experiencing it. Getting professional help is crucial.
What is Prolonged Grief Disorder?
Everyone’s journey through the grieving process differs. There are several terms associated with the process that all have slightly different meanings. These include the following:
- Grief is your emotional response to loss.
- Mourning is your outward expression of your grief and how you adapt to life after your loss.
- Bereavement refers to the period of grief and mourning after experiencing loss.
Again, the grieving, mourning, and bereavement process is normal and expected after you lose someone close to you. Typically, the acute grief you feel immediately following your loss can last for approximately a year. Sadness, tearfulness, and insomnia are all symptoms of acute grief.
The grief may linger as time passes, which is, again, understandable. Over time, acute grief transitions to something called “integrated grief.”
Prolonged grief disorder, however, is something a bit different.
When answering the question, “What is prolonged grief disorder?” you must examine the severity of how grief affects your life and for how long. In essence, prolonged grief disorder occurs when you experience intense, painful emotions due to the inability to adapt to life without your loved one. If this pain persists for longer than one year in adults and six months in adolescents or children, it’s likely prolonged grief disorder.
What is the Difference Between Prolonged Grief Disorder and Depression?
The relationship between bereavement and depression is complex, even for clinical professionals. While grief is a natural part of the mourning process, it’s essential to stay connected with your mental health provider so they can accurately help determine symptoms of grief versus symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).
Medically speaking, grief refers to the preoccupation of thoughts and memories of a lost loved one, while MDD is more persistent and self-critical, without specific ties to someone you’ve lost. Additionally, when you grieve, your self-esteem typically goes unchanged, compared to the feelings of worthlessness you experience when in major depression.
So, as you can see, separating bereavement and depression can be challenging. But with the right supportive and understanding mental health professional by your side, you can navigate the difficult times following loss more readily. If your acute grief turns into prolonged grief disorder, you’ll be ready to combat its debilitating symptoms so you can move forward in life effectively.
Symptoms of Prolonged Grief Disorder
Prolonged grief disorder is a relatively new disorder to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
To be officially diagnosed with PGD, you will have experienced at least three of the symptoms listed below for at least one month, according to the American Psychological Association (APA):
- sense of unbelief that your loved one has died
- feeling like your identity has changed, like a part of you has died
- intense emotional pain about the death
- emotional numbness
- overwhelming loneliness and feeling detached
- avoiding reminders that your loved one has passed away
- trouble reintegrating into your life, including spending time with friends, doing things you enjoy, etc
- feeling like life is now meaningless
Many people feel these symptoms without having complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder. But if your everyday functioning has been negatively impacted for over a year, there is a chance you’re experiencing PGD.
Who is at Risk for Prolonged Grief Disorder?
There are no rules to grief. Everyone experiences it differently and for varying amounts of time. Not everyone will experience prolonged grief disorder, but there are some things to consider that may put you at increased risk.
Approximately 7-10% of bereaved adults and 5-10% of bereaved children and adolescents experience PGD. So if you’re one of them, you’re not alone. And it’s completely understandable.
You may be more at risk of experiencing prolonged grief disorder if you:
- have a history of depression or bipolar disorder
- were a caregiver for the partner you lost
- experienced a sudden or traumatic loss of your loved one
- lost a significant other
- lost a child
Even if none of the above apply to you, you may still struggle with prolonged grief disorder.
Treatment for Prolonged Grief Disorder
While PGD isn’t necessarily depression, treatment for the disorder is similar to treating depression. Partnering with a therapist for holistic treatment can help you:
- accept the reality of your loss
- adapt to life following your loss
- re-engage in activities and people
- work toward feeling better mentally and physically
Many forms of talk therapy are effective in treating bereavement and depression, as well as prolonged grief disorder. Medication management can also help you move forward through your grief. Depending on your individual needs, you may need therapy, group therapy, and medication.
Choose BOLD Health for Depression Treatment in San Diego
Whether you need help managing your bereavement and depression symptoms or feel you may be experiencing prolonged grief disorder, our compassionate, experienced clinicians at BOLD Health are here to help.
We provide quality depression therapy in San Diego and can help you through your struggles with depression or prolonged grief disorder.
The sooner you reach out to us for depression treatment in San Diego, the sooner you’ll learn how to manage your symptoms, work through your difficult emotions, and possibly even avoid prolonged grief disorder.
Contact us for more information about our options for depression therapy in San Diego. We’re here for you every step of the way.