NHS Lothian

What is complicated grief?

1 min read

Complicated grief is when the grieving process doesn’t move forward. You may feel stuck, find that you’re unable to feel sad or to cry, or you may feel so sad that it’s hard to manage your day-to-day life. It’s normal to have any of these feelings when you’re grieving, but with complicated grief the feelings are more intense.


How does grief become complicated?


Researchers are still trying to understand what makes grief complicated. Some key factors that we know can contribute are the circumstances of the loss, the relationship with the person who has died, other losses (particularly at an early age), and the personality of the person who has experienced the loss. Existing mental health conditions can create extra challenges for people trying to cope with loss.


How complicated grief can affect you


It’s normal to lose your routine after a loss. It can feel like a shock to begin with, and a struggle to adjust your thinking and adapt both practically and emotionally. It takes time to figure out what you’re coping with and this can feel overwhelming and intense. Grief becomes complicated when these early experiences of grieving are constant and last for a long time.


  • You may feel unable to go back to work or study after your compassionate leave is over
  • You may feel like you’re not grieving properly, as maybe you’re not crying or feeling sad
  • You may feel that your grief has been too intense for too long and that the intense feelings should have passed by now but haven’t
  • You may feel unable to manage day-to-day life and simple tasks may feel overwhelming, especially once the loss has sunk in and started to feel real to you.


Even if you’re able to manage initial things, like planning a funeral, you might experience difficulties further along in the grieving process. How you cope immediately after losing someone can be different to how you cope in the following weeks or months.


If you feel you’re not moving forward and you’re worried about complicated grief, try talking to your GP to see if they can help.

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