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Intense Sadness Normal After Loss

Study Questions Criteria for Depression Diagnosis After Loss

Second Opinion

"I think it's an important study, probably more than anything else for consciousness-raising," Dan Blazer, MD, PhD, tells WebMD.

Blazer is the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Duke University Medical School. He wasn't involved in Wakefield's study.

Blazer says the study "does help us back off from our tendency to want to label people and then feel like a treatment necessarily follows the way we label them."

"I think this article says one should be a little cautious in assuming that a person meeting criteria for a diagnosis actually may be going through something abnormal. Their response may be totally normal at the time," Blazer says.

"But on the other hand, whenever somebody is going through emotional suffering, we have to be very careful and watch it. If it's extreme, it needs to be dealt with," Blazer says.

"People generally get better over time. If they do not get better, that's a danger sign," he says.

Study's Limits

Participants were only studied once. "We don't know what happens to these people over time; we're just getting a snapshot," Blazer says.

He also notes that no one older than 54 was included in the data and that the survey only asked one question about bereavement.

Still, he calls the study a "good first step" and predicts that several other studies will probe the topic in the next few years.

The data came from the early 1990s, but that shouldn't have affected the results, notes Wakefield. He explains that the 1990-1992 survey was the most recent study with the data needed.

"I think in this particular case, this is timeless," Blazer agrees. "I do not think that the fact that these data were collected in the early '90s in any way discredits them at all."

Road to Recovery

Grief's severity and length are important, Blazer notes.

"Is that loss so severe that you're thinking life is not worth living, that you're thinking about harming yourself? That's not normal and that is certainly something where an individual should be seeking help," Blazer says.

The time frame for recovery is hard to pinpoint precisely. "For most losses, you really would expect people to begin to show some recovery in one to two months," and clearly be doing better after six months.

"But these are ballpark figures and there's a lot of variation around it," Blazer says.

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