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Complicated Grief in Adults

Complicated grief is unresolved grief that is a term used to describe a prolonged sense of mourning. It arises when the patients, or their family members, cease to function normally and can manifest as eating or sleeping disorders. Someone caught in complicated grief can be described as "stuck". This shows a state of being overwhelmed by emotions brought on by grief and accepting the loss. Mourning is expected, and each person reacts differently to the loss of loved ones. But when it begins to interfere with other healthy relationships, job or school work more serious help is needed. People may try and bottle emotions up for prolonged amounts of time, and death becomes a trigger that lets loose all their emotions at once, some times with unhealthy results. Complicated grief is distinguished from a natural phase of grief mostly by its duration.

The source of complicated grief may be in the nature of the relationship before the death rather than in failure to process the event itself. When someone dies leaving unresolved issues, during an estrangement, or if the relationship was filled with conflict, the survivor may have tremendous difficulty accepting that there can be no reconciliation.

There are several indications of complicated grief. Uncharacteristically engaging in reckless behavior, such as substance abuse, heavy drinking or promiscuity is one sign. Another is that sleeping habits become severely, consistently, disrupted. The quality of his or her work suffers, grades drop significantly at school, or loved ones and friends are shunned. They talk about death and loss frequently, often in unrelated conversations. In the alternative, a steadfast refusal to talk about death or loss, or to engage in any conversation about the person who has died, even fond and happy memories. Minor events or casual observations evoke a powerful, uncontrollable response. They may also show signs of severe depression, deteriorating self-esteem, or outright despair.

Complicated grief establishes itself over the course several months and can become very serious. It can interfere drastically with the person's daily life. However, someone in this state is likely to be oblivious, quite unable to recognize his or her condition. Or, someone suffering from unresolved grief may be able to see the problem, but be unable to take steps to address it. A friend, doctor or family member may be needed to intervene so as to persuade the person that therapy is required and to guide them towards help. Counseling for complicated grief gives the mourners practical ways to slowly deal with their loss, while still maintaining a healthy life.


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