Grief Reaction

What is Grief Reaction?
A grief reaction is a set of psychological and somatic (body) symptoms that result from extreme sorrow or loss. This sorrow is usually related to death of a family member or significant other. Psychological symptoms include sadness, anguish and feelings of discomfort, guilt, or anger. Depressive symptoms including hopelessness and helplessness are also common. Somatic symptoms, such as shortness of breath, restlessness, abdominal discomfort, muscular weakness, exhaustion and lethargy may occur. A normal grief reaction resolves in a few weeks or months. Appropriate adaptive behavior includes crying, grieving, and discussing the loss with family or friends. When the severity of symptoms becomes disabling, or the reaction lasts behind a few months, it becomes a “complicated” or “abnormal” or “pathologic” grief reaction. As we will discuss, this abnormal grief reaction and its associated maladaptive behavioral patterns, requires intervention from a mental health professional.

Reactive Depression

What causes a Grief Reaction?
A pathological grief reaction derives from a severe personal loss, such as the death of a family member, friend, or loved one. Psychological and somatic symptoms arise from prolonged bereavement for a loved one. A person may develop an abnormal grief reaction after a loss when they do not possess the appropriate coping skills, lack a family support system or turn to substance abuse or self-medication.

What are the Symptoms of Grief Reaction?
Symptoms of a grief reaction include extreme sadness and sense of loss, as well as traditional depressive symptoms such as hopelessness, worthlessness, and restlessness. Fatigue and insomnia may follow these feelings, leading to increased irritability or anxiety. Eating problems may arise, manifested as significant weight loss or gain. Difficulty in concentrating, making decisions or remembering things, as well as somatic symptoms such as pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems may also occur. Self-destructive behaviors can arise, such as drinking heavily, drug use, or even suicidal thoughts or actions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Grief Reaction

How is a Grief Reaction diagnosed?
A grief reaction is diagnosed on the basis of depressive symptoms temporally related to loss of a family member, friend or loved one. Symptoms of a grief reaction, unlike bereavement which is self-limited, last beyond a few months after the death. While bereavement involves coping skills and ultimately resolves with time, a grief reaction becomes prolonged, and may be associated with complicating factors such as substance abuse or self-medication.

What is the Prognosis for a Grief Reaction?
Grief reactions have an excellent prognosis. Treatment with psychotherapy and medication, when necessary, is extremely effective. Additionally, sleep and stress management, and psycho-education can help a person recover from a grief reaction.

What Complications can Slow Recovery?
Oftentimes a person with a grief reaction may lack motivation or energy to seek treatment. If they have been in treatment, they may be non-compliant with therapy or medication. This sabotaging behavior can slow or prevent recovery. Furthermore, substance abuse, including alcohol, marijuana or cocaine use, can further muddle a grief reaction. Self-medication with anti-anxiety or pain medications is dangerous and prevents a person with a grief reaction from utilizing the proper coping skills and resources to recover.

How Can Friends and Family Help?
Family members, friends, or a spouse or loved one may be the best resource for a person with a grief reaction. They can help that person enter a treatment facility, and provide daily support throughout therapy. Family members can also assist with monitoring medications or watching the affected person for danger signs of an exacerbation. They can also help them reach their treatment appointments and their pharmacy.

When Should a Client enter a treatment center?
When bereavement becomes pathologic, and symptoms of a grief reaction are negatively impacting daily school or work life or personal and family relationships, an intensive treatment program should be considered. Even if a person with these depressive symptoms is in weekly therapy or on medication, persistent or debilitating symptoms may need to be addressed with a more immersive treatment option, such as a treatment center.

How does PCH Treatment Center treat a Grief Reaction?
PCH Grief Reaction Treatment Center has extensive experience dealing with Clients with depressive symptoms characteristic of a grief reaction. Upon entrance, a person with a grief reaction is assigned a doctoral level therapist, who performs an initial evaluation. During this assessment, incorrect labels or diagnoses are discarded. An evaluation is also performed by our Psychiatrist, Dr. William Wirshing. His goal is to optimize each Client’s medication regimen, minimizing usage as much as possible. His philosophy is in concert with the PCH Grief Reaction Treatment Center goal of keeping the mind and body in balance with holistic treatment. Additionally, each Client is overseen by Dr. Jeff Ball, the Executive and Clinical Director, and their case is discussed at a weekly conference, where input is obtained from multiple doctoral level therapists. Individual psychotherapy is the foundation of treatment at PCH Grief Reaction Treatment Center. It is supplemented with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), anger management, sleep management group, psycho-education, neurofeedback and other modalities. Holistic therapies comprise yoga, meditation, acupuncture and massage therapy. They are important for recovery and healing, as well. Optional family therapy groups are also available. These valuable groups incorporate family members or significant others into the Client’s treatment environment.

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