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Complicated Grief and PTSD

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The Office of Veterans Affairs and Disability Services (VADS) at Alabama A&M University is celebrating the month of June as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. During this month, VADS will bring greater awareness to the issue of PTSD by discussing its basics - such as the causes, symptoms, treatment options and resources available to individuals living with PTSD.
This week VADS will feature Complicated Grief and PTSD

First, let's talk about what grief really is and some of the causes of grief. Grief is a natural reaction to a loss. It's the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be. You may associate grieving with the death of a loved on, divorce or the end of an important relationship, loss of your job or retirement, severe illness or a physical disability, relocating, or experiencing a traumatic event such as combat, sexual assault, or living through a natural disaster.
What is the grieving process? Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.
During the grieving process, you may feel many different kind of emotions such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and/or acceptance. In a perfect world, you would go through each stage and all feelings and emotions would be resolved within a specific period of time. However, the world is not perfect, therefore, your grieving process may feel more like a roller coaster - full of ups and downs, highs and lows.
When Does normal grief become complicated grief? As time passes following a significant loss, during the normal grieving process, your difficult emotions become less intense as you begin to accept the loss and start to move forward with your life; whereas, complicated grief (also known as traumatic grief or prolonged grief) involves your emotions remaining the same or getting worse. If after a year or so, you are still experiencing a persistent yearning, longing, and sorrow after the death of the loved one or other significant loss, AND experience at least 6 of the following symptoms: (a) significant difficulty accepting the death; (b) disbelief over the loss; (c) difficulty with positive reminiscing about the deceased; (d) anger; (e) self-blame; (f) avoidance of reminders of the loss; or (g) social/identify disruption - your grief may have moved from normal grief to complicated grief.
Symptoms of Complicated Grief
​Intense Longing and Yearning ​Mistrust
​Intrusive Memories ​Isolation
​Denial ​Anxiety
​Depression ​Irritability
​Avoidance ​Guilt
​Emptiness ​Extreme Anger/Bitterness
Symptoms of PTSD
​Nightmares Poor/Negative Self-esteem Insomnia
​Guilt ​Anxiety ​Frustration
​Intrusive Memories ​Avoidance ​Hyper vigilance
​Poor Judgment ​Startle Response ​Poor Concentration
​Survivor Guilt ​Loss of Motivation ​Short Term Memory Loss
​Flashbacks ​Lack of Feelings ​Helplessness
​Rage ​Isolation ​Irritability
​Depression Physical Pain​ Mistrust​
Does complicated grief and PTSD have any similarities? Yes, they do have some similarities. A few of those similarities include feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness, as well as guilt, confusion, shame and anger. Also, if untreated, both complicated grief and PTSD can be debilitation for months to years, lead to developing for months to years, lead to developing major depression, or having suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Lastly, people experiencing symptoms of complicated grief or PTSD should seek professional help.
What are the major differences between complicated grief and PTSD? Complicated grief and PTSD may have similar symptoms such as experiencing negative feelings like guilt, fear, or shame, and potentially having difficulty trusting and feeling close to others. However, a key difference between the two is people with complicated grief are preoccupied with and hyper-focused on thoughts of the significant loss; whereas, people with PTSD make significant efforts to avoid people, places, or situations that remind them of the trauma. Additionally, people with PTSD typically do not long or yearn for the loss, rather experience flashbacks of the traumatizing loss.
Will treatment help me with Complicated Grief and PTSD? For many people, YES! Even though to date, there is no veteran specific treatments developed for complicated grief treatment (CGT), treatment recommendations are pulled from civilian research topics, CGT helps people to develop tools to manage painful intrusive memories or thoughts and to process them more fully. Additionally, CGT helps grieving individuals restore meaningful relationships in their lives and restore functioning in other life important areas. Treatment for complicated grief and PTSD both focus on integrating aspects of areas. Treatment for complicated grief and PTSD both focus on integrating aspects of interpersonal and cognitive behavioral therapy. Therefore, treatments can get rid of symptoms altogether, reduce the symptoms or its intensity. After treatment, most people feel they have a better quality of life. To better understand how you can benefit from treatment for PTSD, please watch the video below "Treatment for PTSD"
When to get emergency help. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. You may also call a suicide hotline number - in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Available Resources

Call 911 (Residents in North America), or 1-800-273-8255, then press 1 (National Crisis and Suicide Prevention Lifeline), or TEXT to 838255 (Veterans Crisis Line), or 256-372-4751 (AAMU Health and Counseling Services).