Coping With Death Can Complicate Grief
New treatment adds a focus on post-traumatic stress symptoms
(HealthDay News) -- Losing a loved one is never easy, but sometimes the grief becomes overwhelming.
However, recognizing that people who feel this intense emotional distress, known as complicated grief, have symptoms of both major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine tested a treatment that addresses both components.
"Complicated grief is a very under-recognized problem," Dr. Katherine Shear, a psychiatry professor and author of a study on the combination treatment, told HealthDay. "It's not in the literature, and there's a lot of confusion in identifying complicated grief. We're trying to tease apart normal bereavement and the bereaved people who need help, and figure out how to provide appropriate treatment," she said.
"When we took a close look at grief symptoms, we saw some components that are like PTSD, so we integrated some PTSD treatment with interpersonal depression treatment. It was more effective in treating complicated grief symptoms than interpersonal depression treatment," Shear added.
In fact, the combination treatment boosted the response rate to 51 percent, compared with a 28 percent response for the usual treatment for grief, which addresses only depression.
Up to 20 percent of the population will experience complicated grief, according to the study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That means about 1 million Americans suffer each year from complicated grief.
Symptoms include sadness, preoccupation with thoughts of the person who died, feelings of guilt, intrusive images of the person dying and a continued longing for the deceased. When symptoms last for more than six months, it's considered complicated grief.
"Most people with complicated grief report that their family and friends are telling them to move on," Shear said. "But they still feel stuck and preoccupied with the death. They have difficulty accepting the death, almost to the point of disbelief."
Dr. Richard Glass, deputy editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, explained that normal grief differs from complicated grief.
"Normal grief is very painful, but it's not a disorder," he told HealthDay. "It's a normal part of the human condition that can be helped by support from friends and family and culturally sanctioned rituals and procedures."
"That's different from what appears to be a disorder: complicated grief. It's grief that doesn't go away and persists," he said.
Both Glass and Shear agreed that standard depression treatment doesn't work well for people with complicated grief and that people who think they may be suffering from the more complex problem should seek a healthcare professional experienced in treating complicated grief.
Key things to remember if you're coping with the loss of a loved one, according to the American Cancer Society, are to:
Let yourself feel the pain and loss.
Don't be afraid to cry.
Be patient with yourself as you work through the grieving process.
Maintain a normal life as much as possible.
Get support from friends and family.
On the Web
To learn more about ways to cope with the loss of a loved one, visit the National Mental Health Association online.
SOURCES: HealthDay News; Katherine Shear, M.D., professor of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Richard Glass, M.D., deputy editor, Journal of the American Medical Association, and clinical professor of psychiatry, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago; June 1, 2005, Journal of the American Medical Association; American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)
Author: Serena Gordon
Publication Date: May 31, 2006
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