Prolonged Grief Disorder

Prolonged Grief Disorder

Loss of a loved one and grieving their absence is a universal, yet deeply personal experience.

For adults, the death of a partner, parent, child, sibling, or friend can be devastating. For a child, death of a parent, sibling, grandparent or a beloved pet may leave an indelible mark – and cast all the today’s and tomorrow’s in unrelenting heartache.

After a death, many experiences unfold. First is grief, a personal response to the loss. As the emotional and physical experience of loss is expressed, mourning occurs. And finally, bereavement is the period of time where grief and mourning are deeply experienced – and adaptation to life after loss begins.

Taking time to grieve and mourn is a widely accepted way to move through a death. But for some, the experience is marked by enormous emotional and physical pain. Instead, the bereaved child or adult is overwhelmed by a profound, heightened state of immeasurable yearning and a mourning that feels timeless.

The Stages of Grief

For most people moving through a loss, the first experience after a death is called acute grief. This is a normal reaction to loss and generally involves intense, overwhelming sadness and a longing to be with your loved one. Anguish, despair and other significant emotional pain accompanies acute grief as does a multitude of strong physical reactions, like chest pain, diffuclty breathing, heart palpitations, stomach aches, insomnia, and a dulling of your senses. During acute grief, the world can feel surreal, and children and adults may feel detached, numbed and frightened. Grieving is a process, and as time and support from others is provided, acute grief eases and generally moves into the next stage.

Integrated grief is the next stage in the grieving process by which a child or adult has found a way to adapt to the enormous loss of a loved one. This doesn’t mean that grief is “done” or a child has “accepted the loss” or that an adult is “over it.” Instead, grief and mourning have merged – or integrated – in a way that enables life to go on in spite of the death.

However, research reports that about 10% of children and adults who experience a death of a loved one do not reach this integrated grief stage. Instead, they struggle with a distinctly diagnosable condition called Prolonged Grief Disorder, where the ability to adapt to the loss does not occur.

Symptoms of Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD)

Symptoms of Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD)

Prolonged Grief Disorder will vary in intensity, but for children and adults, grief reactions occur most of the day, nearly every day. For children, the death which caused this experience must be 6 months or longer, and for an adult, 12 months or longer. Individuals who experience Prolonged Grief Disorder have significant distress in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Emotional numbness, loneliness, identity disruptions (who am I without you) and a marked disbelief about the death leaves many feeling life is meaningless. Unstoppable yearning for their loved one is palpably felt in nearly every aspect of their life. Because of this anguish, studies show there is a high risk for self harm and suicidal ideation for children and adults with PGD.

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