The New York Times published an article about “complicated grief”, “When Grief Won’t Relent”, on 2-2-16-15. This article summarizes a report published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine, and includes a summary of:

  • how complicated grief is different from normal grief;

  • the symptoms of complicated grief;

  • populations more at risk for complicated grief (including people who have lost a romantic partner, who have a 10-20 percent incidence of complicated grief, parents who lost a child, who have an even higher risk for this problem, survivors of victims of traumatic deaths and survivors who are intensely dependent upon the person who died);

  • impairments that can accompany complicated grief (sleep disturbances, substance abuse, memory problems, increased risk of disease, and suicidal thoughts and behavior).

The author notes that antidepressant medication is often prescribed for complicated grief, but also, referring to information provided by one of the experts interviewed for the article, “…drugs are not the most effective way to treat the disorder.” Rather, the expert recommends a structured version of CBT that focuses on helping survivors revise goals, make new plans without the deceased, and, in effect, reinventing their life.

My take: this article is a helpful update about a condition that many therapists may not see frequently and which may persist without knowledgeable treatment. This article may also be useful to pass on to patients who are struggling with grief to help them know that they are not alone and to perhaps help them be aware of the potential benefits of therapy, possible in combination with medication.  It also could be provided to primary care medical professionals to help promote coordination of care between medical and mental health providers, as therapists who are knowledgeable about complicated grief could be referral resources for medical providers with grieving patients.

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