Grief can be so intense and long-lasting that it sometimes
resembles a psychiatric disorder. As many as 50% of widows and
widowers, for example, develop symptoms typical of major depression
in the first few months after a spouse dies. They may also have
hallucinatory experiences — imagining that the dead are still
alive, feeling their presence, hearing them call out.
These symptoms, upsetting as they may be, are usually normal
responses to a profound loss. In most people, the symptoms ease
over time. One review noted that 15% of people who are grieving are
depressed one year after a loss. By two years, the proportion falls
But if the symptoms are intense enough to interfere with
relationships, work, school, and other areas of life, the problem
may be complicated grief — a term that describes a grieving process
that is particularly difficult. Also known as protracted or chronic
grief, it combines features of depression and post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) — which is why some professionals call it traumatic
grief. One study estimated that nearly 5% of all older adults were
experiencing complicated grief.
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