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How long should grief REALLY last?

Losing a loved one is always life-changing and debilitating as we relearn how to cope with everyday life amid devastating loss.

However, experts have now recognized a difference between a “normal” level of grief and when grieving becomes a disorder that affects your ability to function normally in life.

In March 2022, the US publication the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) officially recognized the PGD for prolonged grief disorder, which applies to anyone who is still unable to cope with their loss six to 12 months after death. to go.

The inclusion in the US publication, which doctors use to diagnose conditions, means those who meet the criteria can have their treatment covered by insurance companies.

Jane Murray, Marie Curie’s grief services manager, told FEMAIL that grief is a natural response to the loss of a loved one, is different for each individual and there is no time limit on how long it can last.

For some people, however, the grief doesn’t diminish with time, and for this minority, Jane says, ‘The symptoms can be severe enough to interfere with their ability to function in their daily lives.

“They may also experience ongoing difficulties related to their loss that exceed expected social, cultural or religious expectations.”

Here, Jane revealed how to determine if your grieving process follows a natural pattern, or if you may be suffering from a long-term grieving disorder?

Prolonged grief disorder is a controversial term for grief that lasts for six months.  In March, the term was officially recognized in the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (stock image)

Prolonged grief disorder is a controversial term for grief that lasts for six months. In March, the term was officially recognized in the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (stock image)


Jane explained that some people can’t focus on anything other than death or how it happened, while others don’t accept the fact that death is permanent. These people may also blame themselves for what happened to the deceased person.

They feel that they have lost a part of themselves and no longer feel like a whole person.


Prolonged grief disorder was recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a book published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) that defines and classifies mental disorders. It can happen when a close relative has died within at least 6 months for children and adolescents, or within at least 12 months for adults.

In long-term grieving, the next of kin may experience intense longing for the deceased or may be preoccupied with thoughts of the deceased, or in children and adolescents, with the circumstances surrounding the death. These grief reactions occur most of the day, almost every day for at least a month. The individual experiences clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Source: psychiatry.org

This is a tricky concept to unpack, and these people will no longer find joy in hobbies they once had, perhaps with the deceased.

In extreme cases, they may find everyday life difficult and as if they no longer fully experience the daily sensations and carry a deep emptiness with them.


Disbelief is the refusal to accept that something is real or true. It is an emotion often associated with shock.

The disbelief that can follow the death of a loved one is described as an adaptive and temporary reaction.

Jane said this is how people react when the death of a loved one comes out of the blue and comes unexpectedly

Healthcare professionals explain that this response protects a person from the pain of loss and allows him, the survivor, to manage all the details after a death.

Embracing the painful reality isn’t quick or easy, and it can be an exhausting process.

However, acceptance of reality should come with time and if not, it is a sign that the bereaved needs extra help.


When a loved one dies, those left behind are faced with traumatic memories, painful emotions, logistical issues, secondary losses, and so on.

This can be incredibly overwhelming and all-consuming and in order not to feel this bombardment of painful memories, they can avoid triggers.

Jane recalls an elderly woman who had lived a very happy life with her husband, but two years after his death, she felt her emotions were as raw as the day he died.

Jane explains, “She had become withdrawn and socially isolated, afraid to pursue hobbies she used to enjoy.”

This trigger avoidance was her way of keeping her emotions at bay.

STRONG EMOTIONAL PAIN RELATED TO DEATH (anger, bitterness, or loss)

Grief can hit people immediately and with full force, possibly causing them to cry a lot or feel like they can’t handle it.

People may worry that their feelings are so overwhelming that they don’t know how to live with them.

These feelings are so overwhelming that they can manifest through strong emotions, especially anger.

While your rational brain knows that the object of your anger is not to blame, your feelings at the time are too intense to act on them.

As this subsides, your brain will let in other emotions that you have masked with anger.


Some people may find it difficult to get on with life and enjoy things they used to enjoy.

They can distance themselves from social situations, family and friends and become increasingly isolated.

If they go on living, they may feel guilty for having moved on without their loved one and fear that they will forget them, which never happens.

In another case of Long-Lasting Greif, Jane recalls a middle-aged gentleman whose wife had died 18 months earlier.

Jane said: ‘As he told his story of them together and brought pictures and recalled – often with tears – happier times, he slowly came to believe that his life without her physically in it didn’t mean he didn’t love her anymore. ‘


Emotional numbness is a state of being in which you do not feel or express any emotions.

Often this feeling is temporary and yet emotional numbness becomes a strategy for some to protect themselves from further emotional or physical pain.

While it can provide temporary relief, it teaches you how to deal with difficult feelings, which can lead to denial and avoidance behaviors.

Emotional numbness manifests itself in an inability to participate fully in life, feeling disconnected from others, feeling flat both physically and emotionally, and having difficulty experiencing positive feelings such as happiness.

The main characteristic of emotional numbness is that the person prefers isolation and becomes more and more withdrawn.


Death can evoke a multitude of emotions and questions, including what the meaning of life is and what happens after death.

Life can seem fleeting and the pain experienced makes people wonder why.

When someone is grieving and experiencing a mix of strong and debilitating emotions, these questions can elicit serious and brash answers.

Unable to answer existential questions such as the point of life, these people may lean on the final answer that life is meaningless and believe it has no meaning.


This type of loneliness occurs when feelings of loneliness and uncomfortable social isolation persist for a long period of time.

It is characterized by constant and unrelenting feelings of being alone, separated or separated from others, and an inability to connect on a deeper level.

It may be accompanied by deep-seated feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem, or social anxiety.

This can be extremely debilitating and affect all areas of a person’s life.

Even when they try to socialize, they can feel social burnout very quickly and become increasingly exhausted.

In severe cases, it can also lead to sleep problems, a weakened immune system, poor nutrition, and more.

How do you cope when you or a loved one mourns for a long time?

  • Identify supportive people in their lives and stay involved: this will help manage the feeling of loneliness or isolation that can follow the loss of a loved one.
  • Set clear boundaries: This includes acceptance that you may not be meeting all your usual obligations, both at work and in social life. It’s important to be kind to yourself and make your own emotional well-being a priority when dealing with prolonged grief.
  • Consider pursuing a new hobby or interest: It can be difficult to sustain the activities you once enjoyed without the company of your loved one. It can be helpful to start a new hobby or activity for fun, whether individually or as part of a group.
  • Be aware of any wishful thinking about the deceased: It’s normal to miss a loved one, but there’s no point dwelling on what it would be like if they were still with you.
  • Honor the deceased at certain times of the year, such as their birthday and death anniversary: ​​establishing mourning rituals, e.g. blowing balloons/lighting a candle/cooking their favorite meal/hanging a special ornament on the Christmas tree… can be one way to keep them in your memory and continue the emotional connection with them in particularly important moments as you move on with your life in general.
  • Accept your loss and the natural sadness that follows: Give yourself safe times and places to grieve deeply – acknowledge your feelings and express your emotions, instead of trying to avoid them or holding back your tears. By allowing yourself these feelings, they will eventually lift and become less heavy.

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