According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), bereaved individuals—or those grieving over the death of a loved one—have an extraordinarily difficult time dealing with this loss.

While it’s normal to go through the different stages of grief following a loss, these individuals show symptoms similar to those of a major depressive episode. They may refer to their depressed mood as “normal,” as a result of their anguish, but they also require professional help to better manage their problem.

Diagnostic Criteria for Uncomplicated Bereavement According to the DSM-5

A diagnosis of uncomplicated bereavement cannot be made unless the following criteria set forth by the DSM-5 are met and the symptoms persist for at least 2 months after the grieving person’s loss:

  • The individual feels guilty about the death of their loved one(s), unrelated to or in addition to his or her thinking they could have done more to save the deceased individual.
  • He or she has consistent thoughts about his or her own death, unrelated to or in addition to his or her belief that it should have been them that died.
  • The individual becomes preoccupied with feelings of worthlessness.
  • He or she experiences and displays impaired psychomotor skills.
  • The individual’s everyday functioning is impaired.
  • He or she has hallucinations, unrelated to or in addition to ones of the deceased individual.

Additionally, grieving individuals may experience depressive symptoms, symptoms of an anxiety disorder, and be overwhelmed by memories of the deceased. These reminders of the deceased can be particularly painful, feeding the depression and anxiety they might be feeling, creating a vicious cycle.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Uncomplicated Bereavement?

Most people can effectively deal with the loss of a loved one with the help of family, friends, and their personal belief systems—this may include feeling and expressing sadness and anger, but that’s normal and they get through it. However, others have a more difficult time processing this degree of loss and find it impossible to continue life as they knew it, as illustrated by the aforementioned symptoms that come with uncomplicated bereavement.

Those at a greater risk of developing this uncomplicated bereavement include those who have a history of mental health issues. And for those who have suffered with a substance use disorder, uncomplicated bereavement may be a trigger—this loss could potentially increase their risk of relapsing.

In addition to the above risk factors, circumstances surrounding a loved one’s death as well as one’s relationship to the individual can have a major effect on how one handles the loss. For example, it may be particularly hard for an individual to process an unexpected or sudden death, just as it is extraordinarily difficult for a child to grieve the loss of a parent, a woman to grieve the loss of her husband, and a parent to grieve the loss of a child.

Treating Uncomplicated Bereavement Effectively

Grief is a difficult, yet necessary and unavoidable part of life. When we grieve, we illustrate the degree of our love for the individual(s) lost and we also learn to continue on with our own lives. “Grief work” includes a few stages one must complete that allow them to do so: They must separate themselves from the person who died, learn how to readjust to a world without the individual, and also work to create new relationships. Moving forward, it is also important that one takes care of his or her own health rather than neglecting it, simply by eating healthy meals and exercising regularly.

Unfortunately, some of us are left more broken than others and need a little extra help healing from the difficult circumstances. In such cases, individuals should seek professional help through grief counseling or therapy. Grief counseling helps grievers manage their reactions to the loss and helps them cope in more productive, effective ways. The goals of this type of therapy are further explained:

  • Explain the normal stages of grieving
  • Encourage the individual to talk about the loss and express their emotions related to the loss
  • Identify coping issues and recommend more productive ones
  • Help the bereaved shift focus from the deceased individual to their own life
  • Provide constant support

3 Popular Movies That Tackle the Difficult Subject of Loss and Grief

P.S. I Love You: In this film, the main character, Holly, loses her husband and has an extremely difficult time dealing with his death. The movie follows her as she searches for and discovers 10 messages left behind for her from her late husband. These messages, along with the undying love from her friends and family, help Holly come to terms with the loss.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: This movie, which is based on a renowned novel of the same name, follows a young boy as he journeys through New York City to find a lock—a lock for a key left behind by his dad, who died in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. Unsure how to deal with his grief and loss, Oskar obsesses over finding this lock, but finally learns to confront his feelings with the help of all the New York City dwellers he meets.

Marley and Me: The movie that made even the toughest people tear up—Marley and Me. This film is based on an autobiography of the same name, which follows a family as they maneuver through life with a crazy Labrador Retriever, Marley. By the end of it, the family has experienced some significant ups and downs, but have to face the hardest down yet in the closing scene: the loss of Marley. The kids draw pictures and write letters to Marley, which they bury with him in the backyard, and the parents reflect on the memories that began 13 years ago. This reminiscing ultimately helps the family come to terms with Marley’s death and their great loss.

Tagged With:

Explore the latest mental wellness tips and discussions, delivered straight to your inbox.

Start a Relationship with An Exceptional Counselor

  • Skilled and caring professional counselors
  • Accepting all major and most insurances
  • High-touch customer service & premium benefits
  • Same- or next-day appointments
  • Ultra-flexible 23.5hr cancellations