FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ's) - Complicated Grief

Q. What is Complicated Grief/Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (CG/PCBD)?


The terms 'Complicated Grief' (CG) and 'Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder' are sometimes used interchangeably, however, medically the terms denote different conditions. 

Both terms refer to prolonged grief symptoms, which denote atypical, pathological mourning styles that are inconsistent with those of acute grief. In the case of 'Complicated Grief' (CG) these symptoms must be present for at least 6 months following the death of a loved one. In the case of Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (PCBD) the associated symptoms must be present for at least 12 months following the death of a loved one. 


Q. Why are these conditions considered to be 'disorders'? 


A medical disorder is a behavioural or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of social functioning. Since CG/PCBD impair psychological, emotional and social functioning in various ways they are considered to be a type of disorder. They can also be considered as syndromes i.e. a group of symptoms that consistently occur together or conditions characterised by a set of associated symptoms.


Q. What effects can CG/PCBD have on a person's health?


A prolonged state of abnormal grief has been associated with elevated rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Over time certain symptoms can be exacerbated and may include cancer, hypertension and cardiac events, all of which are more likely after several years. Immune disorders and evidence of immune dysfunction are also more frequent. In addition, adverse health behaviors are more frequent, and reported functional impairment is greater. Health care services are often used to a greater extent and there are higher reported rates of sick leave. 


Q. Are CG/PCBD mental illnesses? 


There is conjecture as to whether CG/PCBD are mental illnesses and whether or not they should be designated/diagnosed as such. Such a designation/diagnosis would impact upon the type of treatment available and might involve medicalisation. With reference to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) CG/PCBD is a 'Candidate Disorder' with 'Conditions for Further Study', meaning that there is still a significant amount of research to be undertaken prior to any formal categorisation. 


Q. Can anyone be affected by CG/PCBD?


Anyone can be affected by CG/PCBD, however, certain people are considered to be in higher risk groups depending upon relevant predictors/predictive characteristics. Also there may be predominant risk factors involved, which may increase a person's dispositions towards acquiring and developing the condition over the long-term.


Q. Why am I affected by CG/PCBD whereas my relatives are not? 


People experience death and the subsequent feelings of bereavement and loss in very different ways. These depend significantly upon the circumstances regarding the death, the type of relationship and the personal situation of the bereaved. A range of other personal issues may also have relevance, all of which can not only be particular but unique to the individual concerned. Two (or more) relations may potentially manifest very different reactions and responses to the death of the same family member or relation.


Q. Can CG/PCBD be treated? 


These conditions can be treated in various ways, although there is conjecture in the medical/non-medical community as to which of these treatments is most effective. These treatments depend significantly on many factors including; the individual affected, the relationship between the individual and the deceased, the nature of the death, the circumstances surrounding the death, the type and range of complications developed during the grieving experience and whether there is any history of underlying health issues. Social and cultural factors can also be highly significant. 


Q. Where can I find more information about CG/PCBD? 


Should you not be able to find the information you are looking for on this website please check links to external sites from each of the resource pages. In particular the section on Useful Contacts will hopefully be of assistance.