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Abnormal Grieving

Abnormal Grieving

Alternate Names

  • pathological grieving
  • unresolved grief


Grieving is a healthy, but often painful emotional reaction to a loss. Abnormal grieving occurs when this reaction is prolonged, delayed, or otherwise unresolved over a long period of time.

What is going on in the body?

Grief affects all aspects of one's life. Most often, it is the response to loss of a loved one through death or separation. It may also follow the loss of something that is highly valued, such as a job, an object, or status. People often have emotional, physical, and behavioral reactions to an irrevocable loss. Grief usually lessens over time.
To adapt to loss, a person must complete four tasks:
  • accept the reality of the loss
  • work through the pain of the loss
  • adjust to life following the loss
  • move on with life


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Unresolved grief may contribute to higher rates ofdepression,anxiety, and other psychological disorders. Abnormal grieving is more likely to occur in difficult circumstances.
Abnormal grieving is more common, for example, when there are multiple losses within a short period of time. It is also associated with an increased risk of suicide.


What can be done to prevent the condition?

A person can help prevent abnormal grieving by seeking help from a healthcare professional. Family and friends can help by being supportive of the grieving person.


How is the condition diagnosed?

Abnormal grieving is diagnosed when a person shows the symptoms listed above following a loss.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

A person will often mourn the death of a child or spouse longer than other losses. It is not unusual for survivors to grieve over this kind of loss for the rest of their lives. Some people are not able to get on with their lives following a loss.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

A person who is not able to complete the grieving process may not be capable of showing love to others. As an example, an abnormally grieving parent who has lost a child may neglect the needs of his or her other children.


What are the treatments for the condition?

The goal of treatment is to identify and help resolve any difficulties that prevent the person from completing the tasks of mourning. Grieving is considered to be complete when the person is able to experience pleasure, take on new roles, and look forward to new events. Occasional feelings of sadness may remain. However, memories of the deceased no longer cause physical responses of sorrow or pain.
Psychotherapymay be needed if a person is otherwise not able to complete the grieving process. Medicine such as antidepressants may be helpful. There are many support groups for people who have lost a loved one.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects are specific to the medicine used, if any.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

With treatment, the person usually will be able to work through the grieving process and find happiness in life again.


How is the condition monitored?

A person may need to continue withpsychotherapyfor awhile. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.


Woman and Grief, [hyperLink url="" linkTitle=""][/hyperLink]

Grief, [hyperLink url="" linkTitle=""][/hyperLink]

Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing, 4th edition, Stuart and Sundeen, 1991

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