Experiencing PTSD and Complicated Grief After Traumatic Loss

What do you think of when you hear the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?  Perhaps you imagine images of soldiers, who have experienced unthinkable trauma first hand? But, did know that grieving the loss of a loved one and PTSD can go hand in hand?  Especially when a loved one’s death occurs traumatically or unexpectedly.

The myths surrounding PTSD are plenty. The stigma surrounding PTSD is strong.  The symptoms and treatment of PTSD, especially as related to grief and loss, often goes misunderstood. While, the importance of reognizing the symptoms and warning signs of PTSD is crucial for diagnosis and subsequent treatment options.

When Grief Becomes Complicated
Grief is the experience of loss in one’s life. The death of a loved one is marked as one of life’s greatest stressors. Pain from loss can be overwhelming and these feelings are normal and expected. Grief is defined by experts as being either “normal” or “complicated.”

Grieving is unique to each of us. Most people dealing with loss exhibit intense symptoms which do fade with time. Healing ultimately occurs and individuals are able to return to their daily life. For some grief is complicated and healing does not occur in a timely manner. Complicated grief occurs in about 7% of bereaved people. Studies show that PTSD, as well as other anxiety disorders, coexist in bereaved individuals with complicated grief. Individuals with PTSD need the help of a professional. As a result it is important to recognize symptoms and strategies for providing help.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

No one truly knows why some people suffer from PTSD, while others do not. Grievers who are experiencing PTSD often have symptoms which dramatically affect their ability to function in their day to day life.  Symptoms will often linger for more than one month. Common symptoms of PTSD include:

• Reliving the Event
• Flashbacks of the trauma or hyper-focusing on what the individual might have gone through in their final moments
• Sleep disturbances
• Physical symptoms that can include heart palpitations, sweating, or hyperventilating.
• Persistent avoidance of things or events that remind us of the person or place where the tragedy occurred.
• Feelings of Guilt or Self Blame
• Anger or Rage
• Feeling Numb or Detached

The Importance of Reaching Out and Finding Support

After a traumatic event, such as a sudden or violent death, it’s absolutely normal to feel emotional pain and out of sorts. Most individuals, who experience the loss of a loved one, will start to feel better after a few weeks or months. If the emotional pain becomes too much to bear, you experience intense physical symptoms, you cannot function in your daily living or after a few months you are not feeling any relief please reach out to your doctor or a mental health care provider for advice and support.

Professionally facilitated emotional support groups can be a great addition to treatment for PTSD and/or complicated grief. Support groups can give you a sense of connection to people experiencing similar types of loss. Many support groups connect you with individuals who have experienced similar types losses. This makes the connection even more valuable.

Despite feelings of loneliness, it is important to remember that you do not have to suffer alone. Start by recognizing your feelings are important and valuable.   Acknowledging and sharing them are an integral part of your healing. Reaching out for help is a courageous act in itself and connecting with others going through a shared experience can be transformative.

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