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An Echo Press Editorial: Those with prolonged grief aren't alone

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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When a loved one dies, everyone goes through a grieving process.

But the process is different for everyone.

As society learns more about grieving, the days of telling someone who is coping with a loss to “get over it” should be fading. Using that kind of approach doesn’t help those who are experiencing intense and persistent feelings of overwhelming grief. It only makes it worse.

In fact, research has identified a new diagnosis – prolonged grief disorder – that was recently added to the latest edition of a diagnosis manual, DSM-5, that is used by mental health professionals.

Those who are experiencing this kind of disorder should know they are not alone, especially here in rural Minnesota.

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The diagnosis officially recognizes the group of symptoms associated with intense grief that persist over long periods of time, according to the University of Minnesota, which included information about it in its “Driven for Greater Minnesota” newsletter that focuses on Greater Minnesota audiences.

The need for this diagnosis is perhaps greater than ever as people continue to navigate the countless losses experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the university said.

In the newsletter, Fiyyaz Karim, a resident faculty member in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies with expertise in behavioral health and counseling, provided information on how the addition of this diagnosis will help those struggling with loss.

“For many individuals experiencing grief, there might be a bereavement period of emotions, behaviors or cognitive changes,” Karim said. “These reactions may reduce over time, but for some, the symptoms of grief persist and impair the individual in one or more areas of their life such as school, work or in their relationships. This is where the grief becomes prolonged or complicated.”

The pandemic, according to Karim, elicited a wide array of losses for individuals not only due to death and dying but also losses around identity, routine, structure and interpersonal relationships. The isolation associated with the pandemic has further shown the need for prolonged grief disorder to assist in destigmatizing this process.

“I believe this is an important step in continuing to normalize the grief experiences individuals go through as a result of loss,” Karim said. “It assists in validating the various expressions of grief. The recognition of this disorder will also help practitioners be reimbursed accordingly for providing care around these mental health concerns and aid in the increased research exploring the etiology of grief, diagnostic tools and various forms of treatment. Lastly, it gives a name to the experiences someone may struggle with due to grief and loss.”

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