Signs That a Grieving Person Needs Psychological Help

Grief is one of the most difficult experiences people go through. But, how do you know if this process leads to a pathological state that needs professional attention?
Signs That a Grieving Person Needs Psychological Help
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 June, 2023

 Have you ever felt like your world stopped turning because you lost someone? That life was continuing but you had no strength to carry on? These are the kinds of moments when inertia isn’t enough and we simply have to stop because what happened has had such an immense emotional impact. This is grief. It requires professional intervention.

People usually gradually recover after a significant loss. However, they may not be able to do it alone. It’s then that the need for specialized help appears. This is psychological therapy. It’s understood as emotional rehabilitation.

The grieving person wants to go back to how they were before when they were able to cope and tolerate the usual daily frustrations. They want to go back to enjoying their achievements, to be able to feel joy and surprise and start to be curious about life again. They want to return to a life that isn’t painful. But, for this, they need faith and hope. They need to rediscover the part of themselves that they lost when they first received that awful news.

“Loss shows us what is precious, while love teaches us who.”

-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross-

Grieving and psychological help

Coping with the loss of someone is an individual process. Therefore, there’s no point in the grieving person comparing themselves with others. Moreover, not everyone goes along the usual path of mourning or encounters every stage (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) For instance, they may experience flashbacks and find that their emotional journey is longer than they’d hoped.

Prolonged grief disorder is now incorporated in the latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). A review conducted by the University of New York highlights the importance of this characteristic in knowing when to intervene in the grieving process. A series of constructs that differentiate it from the normal mourning process must be addressed.

To know if a bereaved person needs intervention, it’s essential to see if there’s clear deterioration and dysfunction in their most important vital areas.

They should consult a psychologist if, after a year of grieving, they’re still unable to work and resume their basic responsibilities. Also, if they refuse to accept the loss of their loved one. Of course, they can seek help beforehand, but the most accepted clinical guidelines mention these specific symptoms.

You might also like to read Accompaniment in Grief

How to recognize when a grieving person requires psychological help

Those who deal with loss in a more traumatic way demonstrate particular signs. Therefore, you may need to know if what you’re experiencing is normal or not.

Suffering due to the loss of someone significant is complex. There’s no correct way of going through the process. It’s a unique and personal journey. It ends with acceptance when the grieving person acknowledges that life must go on. They maintain their connection with the departed person through their memories.

If you want to know if intervention is necessary in the face of grief, check for the following signs.

Sad senior man sitting representing a grieving person needs intervention
The feeling of persistent guilt appears in those who are stuck in frozen grief.

1. They blame themselves for the loss of their loved one

The difference between normal grief and frozen or prolonged grief is that in the latter, negative emotions and thoughts are constant. The sufferer can’t find relief and the feelings of guilt and the idea that they’re responsible for what happened persists.

Their mind twists and falls prey to painful images of what they could’ve done to avoid their loss. Unsurprisingly, this is an exhausting clinical picture that intensifies their suffering.

2. A year has passed and they’re still in denial

Although the length of time that grief should last isn’t stipulated, it’s expected that after a year the individual will, at least, have accepted the loss of their loved one. However, in the most pathological of cases, some patients still demonstrate notable disbelief at what’s happened. They simply don’t accept it.

3. Their life is filled with the desire to be with their loved one

If they still feel that they’d like to be with their loved one, they probably need psychological help. Obviously, they felt like this to start with. After all, their whole world collapsed around them and they had to try and integrate what had happened.

But, if time has passed and they’re still experiencing a clearly apathetic and unmotivated attitude, are seeking solitude, and still long to be with their loved one, they require help.

4. They’re constantly distressed

Disorganized or pathological mourning means the individual has difficulty regulating their negative emotions. Feelings of anguish, not knowing what’ll happen next, the absence of their loved one, and their invasive pain become insurmountable obstacles.

5. They don’t enjoy anything

If they’re experiencing anhedonia, they probably need specialized help. Anhedonia means they’re unable to feel pleasure or enjoy experiences that were previously gratifying. Moreover, they’re not interested in their social connections or the hobbies that they previously enjoyed.

6. They find it impossible to resume their obligations

At some point, they have to return to work. However, they might find they’re unable to do their job in the same way. This leads to numerous difficulties and progressive psychosocial wear and tear. In addition, their social relationships will be affected and they’ll struggle to perform their basic tasks, such as caring for their home and family.

7. They demonstrate avoidance behaviors

Avoidance behaviors are another sign that the grieving person needs psychological help. In this case, they’re unable to accept their responsibilities so they cancel plans and shy away from numerous activities. In fact, they can’t commit to anything as their mind is elsewhere and their emotional pain of loss destroys everything in their path.

Complicated or disorganized grief often lead to suicidal ideas.

8. Their health is deteriorating

The grieving person’s health may suffer. If this is the case, they shouldn’t be left alone as it could deteriorate even further, especially if they’re suffering from prolonged grief. If this is the case, they might experience disturbances in eating, sleeping, and maybe even somatic disorders.

9. Suicidal ideation

A study conducted by the American Institute of Cognitive Therapy highlights how suicidal thoughts can appear during bereavement. You must be vigilant. If someone close to you (or even you) is experiencing these ideas, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

You might be interested to read How Grieving Helps Heal the Wounds After Loss

Sad couple hugging each other symbolizing that the bereaved person needs intervention
Social support is key during an unresolved duel.

How to help a grieving person

No matter how much you want to help a grieving person, and how much energy you’re willing to expend in trying to get them to move on, it must be them who take the first step. However, here are some useful strategies:

  • Give them the option of asking for specialized help.
  • Suggest that they visit their family doctor first so that they can explain how they’re feeling.
  • If necessary, the doctor will treat them and also refer them to a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • If they need quicker attention, advise them to make an appointment for a private psychological consultation.
  • Tell them that you’re there for them and that they can rely on you for whatever they need during all the phases of their grief.
  • Tell them that there are also group therapies where they can share their feelings with other people who are going through the same thing.

Finally, it’s true that grief is a normal experience that every person has to go through at some point. Yet, becoming frozen in unresolved grief is prevalent in ten percent of all cases, according to a study published in the Spanish Journal of Anesthesiology and Reanimation.

Finally, if you or someone close to you is in this situation, don’t hesitate to seek support from your close environment and request psychological therapy.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.