Skip to content

Unresolved Grief

Font Size

Topic Overview

There is no definite point in time or a list of symptoms that define unresolved grief. Unresolved grief lasts longer than usual for a person's social circle or cultural background. It may also be used to describe grief that does not go away or interferes with the person's ability to take care of daily responsibilities.

Unresolved grief tends to be more common in people who:

Recommended Related to Mental Health

Hoarding: More Than Just a Mess

Judith Kolberg is accustomed to walking into cluttered homes. As a professional organizer, the Decatur, Ga., woman helps clients straighten messy closets, tame stacks of paperwork, and bring order to their chaos. In the past 25 years, she’s also entered the homes of about a dozen people who could be diagnosed as hoarders -- and countless others who came close. “It’s a pretty sensory experience, let me put it that way. There’s obviously the assault on your eyes of the quantity of the clutter, then...

Read the Hoarding: More Than Just a Mess article > >

  • Are unsure how they feel about the person they lost.
  • Have a negative opinion of themselves (low self-esteem).
  • Feel guilty about the loss, such as people who think they could have prevented a serious accident or death.
  • Think the loss was a result of unfairness, such as losing a loved one as a result of a violent act.
  • Experienced the unexpected or violent death of a loved one. People who experience a traumatic loss are at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Experience a loss that others might not recognize as significant, such as miscarriage.

How people express unresolved grief varies. People may:

  • Act as though nothing has changed. They may refuse to talk about the loss.
  • Become preoccupied with the memory of the lost person. They may not be able to talk or think about anything else.
  • Become overly involved with work or a hobby.
  • Drink more alcohol, smoke more cigarettes, or take more medicines.
  • Become overly concerned about their health in general or about an existing health condition and see a doctor more often than usual.
  • Become progressively depressed or isolate themselves from other people.

In addition to the list above, teens may show unresolved grief by using illegal drugs, taking part in illegal activities (such as stealing), or having unprotected sex. They may also become more accident-prone, avoid their friends, and have difficulty completing school work.

Young children may show unresolved grief by developing behavior problems or expressing fears about being alone, especially at night.

People with unresolved grief who do not seek treatment are more likely to develop complications such as depression as a result of grieving.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
Remember your finger
Are You Getting More Forgetful?
fruit drinks
Eat these to think better.
No gym workout
Moves to help control blood sugar.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Close up of eye
12 reasons you're distracted.
birth control pills
Which kind is right for you?
embarrassed woman
Do you feel guilty after eating?
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
woman biting a big ice cube
Habits that wreck your teeth.
pacemaker next to xray
Treatment options.
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.