WHO Guide to Mental and Neurological Health in Primary Care
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Homepage :: Adult disorders :: Bereavement and loss :: Presenting complaints

Presenting complaints

An acute grief reaction is a normal, understandable reaction to loss. Patients present in different ways, but typically they:

  • feel overwhelmed by loss
  • are preoccupied with the loss
  • may present with somatic symptoms following loss.

Individual grief experiences vary enormously; they depend on:

  • the type of loss (eg a loved one, health, social status and lifestyle through the loss of a job, or the breakdown of a relationship)
  • the nature of the loss (expected versus unexpected, traumatic loss, concurrent multiple stressful events, multiple losses)
  • the individual suffering the loss (eg coping strategies, age, spiritual health, previous experience of loss) and their social context (eg family systems, access to support, cultural context).

Grief may precipitate or exacerbate other psychiatric conditions. It can also become pathological, eg it can be absent, delayed (grief reaction triggered some time after loss) or chronic (intrusive and fixed emotions of grief).  Broadly speaking difficulties arise when the response becomes unusually dysfunctional to the individual and those around them.

Last edited: 5/12/2003

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