How Complicated Grief and PTSD Affect a Person: Understanding the Differences and Recovery Measures

Sudden death due to an accident, homicide, suicide, or any violent event is the primary cause of complicated grief. However, the prevalence of this disorder among the bereaved depends on various factors. For example, a family member may not be ready for the death or is unable to make sense of the event. Likewise, various social stressors may also worsen the condition.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also be a contributor to the development of complicated grief. This is because an individual that has such a condition might suppress his or her normal reaction to mourn, which delays the healing process and taxes the body from stored, unprocessed emotion.

By understanding how long grief and PTSD attacks last, you will learn about the differences between these two conditions. This way, you’ll also know what measures to take for a full recovery.

Complicated Grief and PTSD: What’s the Difference

Traumatic events can trigger long-lasting effects on how you behave and show your emotions. Losing a loved one due to a violent death, for example, is traumatic and is likely to cause emotional problems. Prolonged mourning is classified as complicated grief or bereavement. If not treated, it can last for years.

Complicated grief and PTSD symptoms after the death of a loved one usually overlap and can manifest at the same time, but they’re still different.

If you or a loved one are struggling with one or both conditions, a treatment program is the best solution for a complete diagnosis of the link between underlying issues and solutions. Recovery is critical to paving the way to normalcy and moving forward from the past.

However, the treatment methods for each condition also vary. The medications and therapies for creating a treatment plan must address specific obstacles these disorders present. In case they occur simultaneously, an effective treatment plan should address both disorders, starting from the symptoms.

These are the most common symptoms for each condition:

Complicated Grief/Bereavement

  • Difficulty focusing on anything other than the death of a loved one
  • Lingering pining or longing for the deceased
  • Detachment or numbness
  • Feeling like there is no purpose or meaning in life
  • Inability to remember a positive experience you had with a loved one
  • Intense rumination and pain over the loss
  • Becoming focused on reminders of a loved one or going to extremes to avoid reminders
  • Refusal to accept the death
  • Sense of bitterness
  • Lack of trust
  • Lack of motivation to carry out normal duties and routines
  • Self-blame, deep sadness, depression, or guilt
  • Thinking that life is not worth living without the presence of a loved one
  • Isolation from your usual social activities
  • The belief that there is something you could have done to prevent the death
  • A feeling of wanting to have died along with the deceased

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Constant flashbacks of the event
  • Severe physical reactions and emotional distress to anything that remind you of the event
  • Constant nightmares or dreams about the event
  • Avoidance of anything, including people, activities, or places, that remind you of the event
  • Avoidance of thoughts or conversations of the traumatic event
  • A feeling of hopelessness about the future
  • Difficulty in maintaining relationships
  • Lack of interest in activities you loved
  • Being emotionally numb
  • A feeling of detachment from friends and family
  • Forgetfulness of the critical components of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts of the world, people around you, and yourself
  • Jumpiness
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption and drug abuse
  • Difficulty in concentrating on anything
  • A feeling of being awash with shame and guilt
  • Being always on the flight, fight or freeze emotional state
  • Difficulty in getting a good night’s rest
  • Aggressive behavior, angry outbursts, or irritability

How Long Do Complicated Grief and PTSD Attacks Last?

Many symptoms of complicated grief are the same as those of normal grief. However, these symptoms do not fade with time. The disorder will make you feel like you are in an ongoing heightened mourning state that prevents critical healing.

When it comes to PTSD symptoms, they can start about a month after a traumatic experience occurs. However, there are also cases where symptoms appear after several years.

Considering how long grief and PTSD attacks last, these conditions will definitely cause extensive problems in a sufferer’s work, family, and social life. These symptoms will interfere with their ability to carry out their usual daily routine with optimism about the future.

Why Treatment Is a Must for Both

No matter which disorder you or a loved one are struggling with, professional treatment is essential toward overcoming complicated grief and PTSD.

Complicated Grief

Contact a mental health professional if you are experiencing intense grief and have problems functioning a year after the passing of a loved one. These professionals are better qualified to make the right diagnosis, determine whether you really have complicated grief, and suggest a course of treatment.

The most effective strategy for helping someone get out of the depression funk brought on by complicated grief is therapy. Understand what is happening to you, get in touch with your emotions, and get help with developing better coping mechanisms.

Mental health professionals will also help you process the loss in a healthy and productive manner. They will also find out whether you have underlying mental issues that require further management.


You should talk to a therapist and learn how to prevent unwanted memories of trauma if you are:

  • Having disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for longer than a month
  • Experiencing intense emotions
  • Having trouble getting your life under control

Accessing professional care as soon as possible is critical in preventing PTSD symptoms from getting worse.

PTSD treatments fall into three categories: inpatient, outpatient, and dual-diagnosis (when addiction is present) programs. The choice you make depends on your circumstances and the severity of your condition.

Therapy sessions immerse patients in environments that allow them to focus on healing and achieving personal growth. Practical-oriented therapies, such as exposure therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), help traumatized individuals change their ways of thinking and reacting to daily situations.

Family and group therapies also supplement your recovery regimen to make sure that you have a moral, understanding, and compassionate network to work through your terrifying memories.

Carefully controlled doses of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications might also be prescribed. These medications help you cope with disabling depression and anxiety symptoms. There is also the aftercare regimen that includes taking part in peer-group meetings and therapy sessions to reinforce new perspectives. Aftercare may continue for as long as required to keep PTSD symptoms under control.

People with complicated grief or PTSD might consider suicide. If you think you or a loved one will act on their suicidal feelings, contact professional help immediately.

Steps to Coping with and Overcoming Grief and PTSD

So, what are some of the steps you can take, besides therapy and other doctor-recommended treatments, to keep symptoms at bay and control how long grief and PTSD last and manifest?

Here are approaches for each disorder that you might want to consider:

For Complicated Grief

Grief is a common experience across cultures, demographics, and age groups. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for overcoming grief and filling the emptiness that comes with it. For centuries, medical professionals, poets, writers and healers have all been trying to understand this human experience.

We all grieve and survive the most painful moments of life.

In essence, what steps can you take to overcome complicated grief and regain a normal sense of life after loss?

  1. Acknowledge and accept the feelings by crying, if you must, to release and eliminate stress hormones.
  2. Understand that grief is a multi-stage process of denial, anger, bargain, depression, and acceptance.
  3. Know that you may never get over it, but that it is OK.
  4. Incorporate your grief into a stepping stone for creating or building something new, such as joining or starting a campaign that helps others in a similar position.
  5. Create a personal ritual honoring an activity that brought joy to a loved one, so that you can move forward and change the relationship you have with grief.


Approximately 8 million adults in the US have PTSD, and women are more likely to develop the condition than men.

Negative coping strategies are temporary solutions that can lead to long-term self-destructive behavior. So, what else can you do to control PTSD symptoms?

  • Engage in mindfulness meditation to reduce avoidance and self-blame
  • Engage in physical activities, such as running, to regain focus
  • Use aromatherapy to reduce the anxiety and chronic stress that come with PTSD
  • Use art therapy to externalize emotions and teach yourself how to cope with distressing memories; you can try sculpting or painting
  • Adopt a pet. Some pets are trained to recognize, prevent, and disrupt the onset of disruptive symptoms

Final Thoughts

Adaptive, compassionate solutions are critical for coping with and controlling how grief and PTSD attacks last, and the effects they have on everyday life. Fortunately, professional mental health practitioners provide such solutions in an environment that is both comforting and safe. Choosing distraction-free, non-judgemental environments is your best bet to ensure that you can move on from past traumas and experience a future full of possibility and optimism.

To help ease the process of seeking healing and support from healthcare professionals, Modern Healthcare delivers in-depth analyses of the latest news and trends in the industry. Click here to find this week’s top medical news items!

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William Woodall

Hi, My name is William Woodall, and I am a person who is determined to make the world a better place. I like to be around people and enjoy adventure and challenges.
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