There’s no pill for grief

Most people at some point in their lives lost someone they love. Whether it be a family member, friend or pet, the loss of a loved one can be devastating. We go through the stages of grief in our own ways, and some have a harder time dealing with loss than others. Different deaths will affect us in various ways; a loss of a second cousin won’t generally compare with the loss of a spouse. Bereavement is entirely personal and, unless the individual means harm to themselves or others, the process should be largely respected.

Grief can not be helped with a pill. Graphic by Laura Bramble.

But where does bereavement end and depression begin? One year? Five years? Twenty years? Obviously depression is a major part of the grieving process, but bereavement rules out a diagnosis of major depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). But there has been a movement recently toward giving grief-stricken patients antidepressants. Perhaps on the surface this seems logical; someone who is experiencing life-altering depression may need a psychiatric intervention, but grief is not wholly like other forms of depression.

Sometimes major depression is only a chemical imbalance that a pill can remove, and that’s fantastic. For the most part, though, that’s not the case with grief. To some extent, everyone comes to understand early in life that everything that is living dies and that anyone who lives long enough will experience loss. Death and all of its implications, from depression to guilt and anger, need to be dealt with in a conscious manner and, for the most part, this can be done without using medicine.

Grief counseling is available to individuals and families that need it. Those individuals can express themselves in a safe environment without fear of judgment or retribution. Professional counselors are trained to know the warning signs of more serious issues and can refer clients to the appropriate health professional if additional interventions, such as medicines, are needed. Of course, there are people who will need such treatment, like those who know someone who had a traumatic death. By encouraging people to seek counseling early on, it will help eliminate more serious, long-lasting effects and promote the development of a happier, healthier and well-adjusted population. Most importantly, by conveying as a society the belief that the emotions experienced during grieving are natural, expected and justified, we take one more step to ensuring a focus on not just physical health, but mental health as well.