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How to Cope with Prolonged Grief in the Age of Covid

Recognizing the signs of lingering grief can help you get the support you need.

Coping with grief during Covid

I remember when I first heard the term “complicated grief,” a name psychologists use to describe a grieving process that lingers far beyond the initial, acute months following a painful loss. Reflecting on the losses I’d endured in my life, I thought—who could ever call grief un-complicated?

But then I learned that the term actually refers to a specific condition that requires special attention and care. In the age of COVID, with our collective grief over losses both great and obvious and small and invisible, it’s unsurprising that the diagnostic manual psychologists use now has given complicated grief a new name—Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD). 

The American Psychiatric Association lists symptoms that can indicate this condition including: 

–Emotional numbness
–A sense of disbelief about a loss
–Avoidance of reminders of the person who has died
–Difficulty reintegrating into normal daily activities

These symptoms are normal during the grieving process. As any of us who has lost a loved one can confirm, manifestations of grief sometimes flash to the surface years or even decades after a loss. But PGD could be at work if those feelings are persistent, consistent and intensely disruptive to our well-being and ability to function. 

The sheer volume of loss the world has experienced throughout the pandemic means PGD is emerging for an increasing number of people. The losses of in-person support systems, fully staffed medical care resources and the easy pursuit of pleasurable activities can leave many people feeling trapped in the overwhelmingly painful emotions of grief.

Tashel Bordere, an assistant professor in the department of human development and family science at the University of Missouri, Columbia, told The New York Times a “lack of grief education” is partly to blame for the confusion many people—and even medical practitioners—experience when grief escapes the parameters of social and cultural norms. It makes Dr. Bordere “cringe” that grief is categorized as a “mental disorder” at all, instead of an accepted and normalized aspect of the human experience.

Understanding what PGD might look like empowers mourners to seek help from trained experts who can offer support and hope. Two online resources are:

The Center for Prolonged Grief (directory of therapists)

Together While Apart: Information and home assessments for COVID grief

How are you coping with grief during COVID?

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