When Irene lost her husband of 51 years to cancer, she did exactly what any wife would do – she mourned. Her great love had been lost and she was overwhelmed with grief as was the rest of the family. The problem was that two years on from the day she lost her husband, Irene was still battling with grief. A grief that was so strong and so serious that she lost her motivation to do anything. It was like depression in that nothing could change her mindset and her family begun to worry heavily about why she couldn’t find any light in her dark world.
Irene is one of many thousands of people who experience grief on a completely different level. The symptoms present similar to depression but what Irene is fighting against is called Complicated Grief or CG for short and it affects 9% of women at some point in their lives.
Complicated Grief is when the grieving process is drawn out and becomes more serious, impacting the entire life of an individual for a prolonged period of time. It is a case that is particularly prevalent in older women and the major factor to predict CG comes down to the relationship of an individual with the deceased person.
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The type of relationship, amount of involvement in each others’ lives and length of relationship are key determinants of CG onset. And sadly, the older women who are battling with the loss of friends, family and loved ones are struggling with CG now more than ever. CG sufferers are withdrawn, unmotivated, they can’t function in normal capacities and they cut off from friends, family, work and social life. Sadly, CG sufferers have an increasing suicide rate and lives are being lost to this horrible condition.
It has been always been approached just like depression and treated with antidepressants, but a team of scientists from Columbia University have found that CG actually requires its own type of targeted treatment, presenting hope that CG won’t continue to take precious lives.
The study, conducted on over 150 women with an average age of 66, found that an attachment therapy model helped those suffering from CGT with a much higher success rate than treatment models commonly used for depression. The severity of the disease reduced significantly and sufferers were able to have normal function in their daily lives again.
The therapy these sufferers underwent involved heavily emotion evoking talking and discussion about the grief experienced and memories of the deceased loved one. This drew out the pain points and therapists were better able to understand the major drivers behind the grief and tailor specific treatment tactics to these.
The lead author of the study, Dr Katherine Shear said, “Complicated grief is an under recognised public health problem that likely affects millions of people, many of them elderly. …Given a growing elderly population, increased rates of bereavement with age, and the distress and impairment associated with CG, effective treatment should have important public health outcomes.”
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So as women over 60 who are ourselves as well as our friends and family, dealing with the increased chances of loss of a loved one due to ageing associated problems, how can we help ourselves and our friends go through such difficult times and find a way of living without developing CG?
It is important that we remember everyone grieves differently. What we need from our friends and family is different to the support that they may need from us. Everything takes time and while most people won’t be prepared to discuss their feelings, situation and past in the short time after the loss of a loved one, discussion is an important part of attachment therapy and it is something that needs to happen in good time. Making sure your loved ones know that you are always there to talk if they need it is important.
They are basic things that are human instinct for many of us, but by being aware of the depths of grief and understanding CG we know what to look out for and that this isn’t just something that may pass.
Have you dealt with the loss of a loved one? Do you have any advice for anyone going through the grieving process?