When to Get Professional Help
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Grief is a natural process and most people make it through without professional help. While things will never be the same as before a close death, most people will eventually be able to integrate the loss into their life and move forward. Some people, however, become stuck and find that the death is having a negative impact on their life that is ongoing and they are not able to move forward on their own. Becoming stuck in the same level of pain without seeing it shift and lessen over time is called Complicated Grief by psychologists.
Some people become stuck because they don’t have enough support and need others to listen and witness their story. This can sometimes happen when everyone who would normally be a support person is grieving the same loss. Others become stuck because a death triggers past unresolved issues, such as trauma or anxiety. Pre-existing depression or alcoholism can make it hard for people to process effectively. Complicated grief is also more likely when the death is sudden, traumatic or that of a young person. Guilt or remorse can make it more difficult to grieve, as well as relationships that aren’t recognized by society such as affairs , ex-spouses or even close friends.
One sign that professional help is needed is if you are having difficulty with basic functions in your life such as eating, showering and dressing. Sleep disruption is common, however it should resolve itself within a month to several months, depending on the closeness of the loss. Sometimes grief can morph into depression, which may call for the help of a professional. While grief and depression can seem similar, there are some differences. In grief, the sadness and pain come and go while in depression they are constant and unrelenting. In grief, self-esteem stays stable while in depression self-esteem is much lower than prior to the depression. Finally, grievers have hope that they will feel better in the future while people who are depressed feel hopeless. If you think you might be depressed, a professional can make a definitive diagnosis and provide treatment.
Complicated Grief does not have a clearly delineated definition. It is merely grief that is longer and more pronounced than would be expected under the circumstances. It can be thought of as someone who is suffering a great deal and might be helped with the burden of their suffering by someone who is trained.
If you think you could benefit from additional support, you can contact your local hospice and ask about grief counseling. Hospices will either provide, or refer to, counseling. You do not have to have complicated grief or depression to benefit from grief counseling. Some people like individual counseling and others prefer groups; it is mostly an individual preference. You can also contact your primary care provider and ask for a referral to a therapist. If you have pre-existing anxiety or depression, it is a good time to review the effectiveness of your medications with your prescriber.
Grief is well-studied and there are empirically validated treatments. It is something you can get through, either on your own or with professional support, and once again lead a life with happiness and fulfillment while honoring the loved one you have lost.
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