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Does bereavement-related major depression differ from major depression associated with other stressful life events?

Research paper by Kenneth S KS Kendler, John J Myers, Sidney S Zisook

Indexed on: 19 Aug '08Published on: 19 Aug '08Published in: The American journal of psychiatry



Abstract

Of the stressful life events influencing risk for major depression, DSM-III and DSM-IV assign a special status to bereavement. A depressive episode that is bereavement-related and has clinical features and course characteristic of normal grief is not diagnosed as major depression. This study evaluates the empirical validity of this exclusion criterion.To determine the similarities of bereavement-related depression and depression related to other stressful life events, the authors identified and compared cases on a range of validators in a large-population-based sample of twins. The authors evaluated whether cases of bereavement-related depression that also met DSM criteria for "normal grief" were qualitatively distinct from other depressive cases.Eighty-two individuals with confirmed bereavement-related depression and 224 with confirmed depression related to other stressful life events were identified. The two groups did not differ in age at onset of major depression, number of prior episodes, duration of index episode, number of endorsed "A criteria," risk for future episodes, pattern of comorbidity, levels of extraversion, risk for major depression in their co-twin, or the proportion meeting criteria for "normal grief." However, individuals with bereavement-related depression were slightly older, and more likely to be female, and had lower levels of neuroticism, treatment-seeking, and guilt and higher levels of fatigue and loss of interest. Interaction analyses failed to find unique features of people whose illness met criteria for both bereavement-related depression and normal grief compared to those whose illness was related to other life stressors.The similarities between bereavement-related depression and depression related to other stressful life events substantially outweigh their differences. These results question the validity of the bereavement exclusion for the diagnosis of major depression.