Grieving the death of a loved one and feeling depressed would seem to go hand in hand. Thus, the American Psychiatric Association has long warned against diagnosing depression in those who are recently bereaved. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists grief as an exception to the diagnosis of clinical depression. Now the APA is considering eliminating that exception. If they do, individuals who are grieving could be diagnosed with depression.
In a recent article on PsychologyToday.com, Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. (author of Saying Good-bye: A Guide to Coping With a Loved One’s Terminal Illness) looks at grief and depression.
Just as dying is an inevitable part of the cycle of life, bereavement is a necessary aspect of living. There is no timeline for grief. In addition, cultural and circumstantial factors contribute to how people express and cope with it.
Some receive a great deal of support while grieving, from their families, friends, communities, churches. But grief can be an isolating experience, and not all bereaved get the support they need.
People suffering from major depression tend to be isolated and feel disconnected from others, and may shun such support and assistance. People who don’t get such support, or who avoid it, may be at greater risk for slipping into clinical depression during the grieving process... for some people who have previously struggled with acknowledged or unacknowledged depression, the death of a significant other can be the catalyst that brings depression to the foreground. In such cases, professional treatment such as therapy and/or medication can be helpful.
While not all grief can be viewed as clinical depression, grief can lead to depression in certain individuals. Dr. Nowinski offers a few suggestions for anyone who is grieving:
- Expect to feel depressed. Loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and sadness are all part of the normal grief process, and are best not interfered with.
- Expect grief to wax and wane over time. You may feel “fine” one day, only to slip back into deep grief the next day.
- Build and use a support network. Grieving individuals need others to talk to and to care for them not just for a few days, but over an extended period of time. This is especially true for those people who are primary caretakers for a terminally ill loved one.
- If you experience thoughts of suicide, serious weight loss, or are unable to perform daily functions such as getting out of bed or going to work for more than an occasional day, consider seeking additional professional help.
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