Symptoms of Grief

Grief is defined as an emotional reaction to a significant loss. It can be used to describe the loss of a friend, family member, spouse, pet, marriage and is also used to define loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. By definition if you look at how grief is identified “perinatal grief” is grief due to the loss of a child from stillbirth or up to 28 days after death. That definition shows the lack of support for those who are grieving due to miscarriage which is just as real.

Grieving is the process of emotional and life adjustments you go through after such a loss and usually outlined in 5 stages most go through during their bereavement period. Grieving is very much an individualized process and everyone has a different journey through. There is no set time to ‘get over it’ and many believe that you never ‘get over it’ you just learn to live differently.

Symptoms of grief can mimic depression or post traumatic stress disorder but it’s important to let grief be grief and not outwardly define it as something else. Grieving takes time, grieving is painful but grieving is not a mental illness — it doesn’t need to be fixed or managed — it needs to be worked through and lived.

Symptoms of Grief:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Crying/Emotional
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss/weight gain
  • Insomnia/Over sleeping
  • Weakened immune system

Complicated grief is defined when the pain of loss is so constant it keeps you from resuming life activities — often described as being stuck in a constant state of mourning. It may feel like you are stuck at one or more of the stages of grief and may have trouble accepting what has happened.

Symptoms of Complicated Grief:

  • Intense longing and yearning for the deceased
  • Intrusive thoughts or images of your loved one
  • Denial of the death or sense of disbelief
  • Imagining that your loved one is alive
  • Extreme anger/bitterness

Again, many of these symptoms mimic depression or PTSD but the main difference is with grief — there are small windows of ‘normalcy‘ where there will be moments of happy and calm – even if they are fleeting. With depression or PTSD, the feelings of sadness, anxiety and fear remain constant.

Medication for Grief:

While this is definatly a personal choice and one to be made with a doctor who is familiar with the grieving process it is not normally recommended to take anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications for grief. Many physicans believe it can delay and hinder the mourning process. Counseling is the main ‘treatment’ for working through grief as the first line and learning self care methods should be introduced. Should your moods not improve — even just a small amount — 4-6 weeks after loss, it is recommended to speak again to your doctor or therapist about more treatment options.

When to seek help immediately:

If you recognize any of the above symptoms of complicated grief or major depression in yourself or a loved one, make an appointment with your doctor or speak to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, including suicidal ideation.

Contact a counselor if you or a friend show any of these feelings:

  • Feel like life isn’t worth living
  • Wish you had died with your loved one
  • Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
  • Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss


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Devan McGuinness

is the founder and executive director of the award-winning resource Unspoken Grief .