Grief Causes, Statistics, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is Grief?

If you or a loved one has lost someone or something you care about deeply, you may be experiencing an array of painful feelings and emotions.  These responses are part of the natural reaction of grief.  Grief is a multi-faceted and normal response to loss and can vary based on individual experiences and the nature of the loss.  Grief is more than just an emotional reaction; it entails physical, behavioral, and cognitive responses as well.  Common scenarios that can invoke grief include the death of a loved one, failing health, the end of a relationship, or loss of employment.  Grieving is a process that can be natural and healthy if an individual is able to move forward through each stage of grief.  The stages of grief are as follows:

  • Shock and Denial:  In this stage of grief, a person’s initial reaction to loss will be shock.  This may help an individual protect themselves from being too suddenly overwhelmed by the loss.  Usually this stage will last two to three months.
  • Intense Concern:  This stage is defined by preoccupation with the loss.  Individuals during this stage will have ongoing thoughts of the loss, having little ability to think of anything else.  This period typically lasts from six months to a year.
  • Despair and Depression:  This stage of grief is usually the most painful for the griever, as the individual will slowly come to terms with the reality of their loss.  Many emotions and feelings will arise, including anger, guilt, sadness, depression, and anxiety.
  • Recovery:  This stage is not an elimination of the pain experienced from the loss, but rather, when an individual grieving is able to show new interest in daily activity and normal living.

The grieving process can become dangerous, destructive and unhealthy when a person is not able to move through these various stages of grief.  Grief, if not healthily dealt with, can develop into Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD), in which severe grief symptoms have been experienced for at least six months and a person is stuck in a maladaptive state. If you or a loved one has been dealing with grief in isolation, with little support, and with prolonged difficulty, you may be in need of treatment for grief.  Grief can be dealt with healthily, and with the right resources, you can find help and healing through this difficult time.

Statistics on Grief & Bereavement

Statistics about grief are helpful as they can provide greater comprehension about this state in addition to creating improved outcomes for those who are suffering for prolonged periods of time.  The following are important statistics about grief that may be helpful in better understanding this response to loss:

  • Bereavement, while a normal part of life, carries a degree of risk when severe.  Severe reactions affect approximately 10-15% of people [1].
  • Severe reactions mainly occur in people with depression present before the loss event [1].
  • Bunch et al. found a five times greater risk of suicide in teens following the death of a parent [2].
  • An effective treatment for complicated grief was found through research, by treating the reactions in the same way as trauma reactions [3].
  • The Mental Health Clinical Research team theorized that the symptoms of complicated grief in bereaved elderly are an alternative of post-traumatic stress.  These symptoms were correlated with cancer, hypertensions, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, increased smoking, and sleep impairments at around six months after spousal death [4].

Causes of Grief

Grief is the natural response to any major loss and can be triggered by a variety of scenarios.  Possible losses that may cause grief include the following:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce, or ending of a relationship
  • Onset of a chronic or terminal disease
  • Job loss
  • Delivering a child with a birth defect
  • Disability from an illness or severe accident
  • Loss of independence
  • Surviving an act of violence or natural disaster
  • Discovering that your child or teen has a learning disability, behavior problem, or is abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Having a miscarriage or stillbirth

Grief may also be caused by losses that are associated with positive life changes or transitions, such as the following:

  • Marriage (loss of independent decision making)
  • Beginning college (loss of familiar surroundings)
  • Birth of a child (loss of independence)
  • Retirement (loss of work-related identity or source of reliable income)
  • Aging (loss of physical strength)

Memories associated with anniversaries, birthdays, etc may also trigger an emotional response that may induce a state of grief for an individual.   If you have been struggling with ongoing grief, you may need the assistance of a grief support center to assess how grief is affecting your daily life.

Signs and Symptoms of Grief

When a man, women, adolescent, or child is enduring grief, particular signs and symptoms will be evident, typically corresponding with the stage of grief they may be in.  If you or a loved one is struggling with grief, these symptoms may help you become aware of what you are dealing with or lead you to reach out for professional help.  Common signs and symptoms of grief include but are not limited to:

  • Denial or shock
  • Outburst of anger
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks, intense anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Feeling of emptiness in the stomach or abdomen
  • Intense anger projected toward loved one who has passed
  • Inability to complete tasks
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Need to tell and retell stories about their loved one and their death experience
  • Unpredictable crying episodes
  • Wandering aimlessly throughout the home
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Irritability, moodiness
  • Withdrawal from others, seeking isolation

If you or your loved one has been experiencing any of these above symptoms as a result of grief, consider seeking support from a grief professional who can help guide you through this devastating time period in your life.

Grief Effects

Though grief is a natural process and response to loss, it can escalate into a much more destructive course if not dealt with appropriately or healthily.  As a result of this, consequences may arise that can affect every aspect of your well being, including physically, mentally, and socially.  No matter the length of time one might be suffering with grief, the effects can be debilitating if not treated or addressed professionally.  Understanding how grief may affect the different aspects of your life may encourage you to get the help you need and deserve.  The following are some of the effects of grief:

Physical Effects – Prolonged period of severe grief can be taxing on the body, especially over long periods of time.  These are some physical effects that may be experienced:

  • Disinterest in personal hygiene or appearance
  • Weight loss from lack of appetite
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Hyperactivity
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Fatigue
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Recurrent illnesses, such as colds, sore throats, etc

Psychological Effects – Grief will have a tremendous impact on your mental health, particularly if an individual who is grieving is lacking adequate support or professional help.  Some of the psychological effects that may be experienced include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt and shame over an experienced loss
  • Indentify changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Hallucinations
  • Outbursts or anger
  • Mood swings
  • Regression

Finally, grief can have negative consequences on your social life.  Social effects of grief include:

  • Decrease in performance at work or school
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Lack of enjoyment in hobbies or activities once enjoyed
  • Avoidance of social situations

Grief Treatment

If you or a loved one has been suffering with grief to the point that it has become debilitating to your daily life, find some peace in realizing that you are not in this battle alone.  Though you may feel deep in despair, loneliness, or even secluded from the rest of the world, you can find hope and healing through this process.  By seeking the appropriate help and care you need, you can find the resources you need to address your grief in a healthy way.  Dealing with the effects of grief in addition to any other co-occurring disorders can be overwhelming and isolating.  A grief treatment center can provide the tools and resources you need to recover and heal from any situation you may have endured.


[1]:  Bonanno, George A. (2004). “Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience: Have We Underestimated the Human Capacity to Thrive After Extremely Aversive Events?”. American Psychologist 59 (1): 20–8. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.59.1.20. PMID 14736317.

[2]: Bunch, J.; Barraclough, B.; Nelson, B.; Sainsbury, P. (1971). “Suicide following bereavement of parents”. Social Psychiatry 6 (4): 193. doi:10.1007/BF00578368.

[3]: Shear, K. (2005). “Treatment of Complicated Grief: A Randomized Controlled Trial”. JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association 293 (21): 2601. doi:10.1001/jama.293.21.2601.

[4]:  Rosenzweig, Md; Prigerson, Phd; Miller, Md; Reynolds Iii, Md (1997). “BEREAVEMENT AND LATE-LIFE DEPRESSION: Grief and Its Complications in the Elderly”. Annual Review of Medicine 48: 421–8. doi:10.1146/ PMID 9046973.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 15th, 2013
Published on, Addiction nformation