Common Symptoms In Mourners Needing Professional Help

america-arid-bushes-221148Not every mourner needs grief counseling or grief support groups, but sometimes grief becomes so overwhelming that outside help may be needed.  No one knows your grief or your grief experience like you do.  So sometimes you have to tell yourself, "Hey, I cannot do this grief thing alone. I need help from somewhere and someone!" When should the "light bulb" moment come to ask for help from others and possibly professional help?  There are no set rules or requirements for when professional help is needed, but there are some symptoms or red flags that may indicate you should consider reaching out to a grief support group or licensed professional grief counselor.

Experiencing any one or several of the following symptoms for only a short time, may not indicate complicated grief.    The need to seek professional help when experiencing one or several of the symptoms below depends on the number, intensity, and duration of your symptoms.  If you experience the symptom(s) occasionally or for a short duration, you may just be experiencing grief  reactions that are natural and normal for you.  Many of these symptoms may occur after the initial shock after the loss wears off and the reality of the loss is felt.

Social reactions

  • inability to get out of bed because of extreme exhaustion, lethargy or depression
  • avoidance of any social gathering or social contact with others
  • grief reactions/responses that are hindering your ability to perform daily care for yourself, necessary daily activities, or family/personal/social/financial responsibilities

Physical reactions (if any of these symptoms become problematic affecting your ability to perform normal, everyday activities, you should first report it to your physician)

  • constant fatigue and/or depression
  • continued sleep disturbances from frequent nightmares and intrusive  memories
  • physical symptoms or psychosomatic reactions (headaches, stomaches, anxiety/panic attacks, any physical pain)
  • significant weight loss or gain

Emotional reactions

  • inhibited or absent grief-an inability to feel or express any grief emotion
  • exaggerated grief reactions for a prolonged period of time
  • prolonged depression
  • prolonged anhedonia-the inability to experience any joy
  • prolonged inability to be consoled
  • prolonged irritation and frustration in reaction to life events including especially common daily events
  • prolonged hostility and aggression
  • panic attacks, phobias, or irrational fears
  • constant yearning to see or be in the presence of the loved one who died
  • constant flashbacks to the events surrounding the death or the death notification
  • intrusive thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Behavioral reactions

  • progressive isolation and withdrawal from social contact
  • self-destructive behavior including self-medication with alcohol and illegal or prescription drugs
  • prolonged avoidance of tasks reminiscent of what was lost
  • continued loss of interest in activities that once brought you comfort or pleasure

Mourners were never meant to do their grief alone.  They need support systems of people who can help, support and encourage the mourner through difficult experiences and emotional times.  Part of that support system can be a grief support group led by a licensed mental health professional or individual grief counseling provided by a licensed mental health therapist.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX