Grief: It’s complicated

One of the many normal human experiences for which it is currently the fashion to pathologize is grief. I was surprised to find a very reasonable article on Psychology Today’s website, which in general tows the party line and generally makes me groan whenever I read their work.

The study they report on today shows that “complicated grief” does not respond to antidepressants. Unfortunately, most people who come up against difficult grief responses are routinely handed antidepressants these days, which as in all other instances of
over-medicating the public at large often ends up with people getting sucked into the psychiatric system.

A brief excerpt from the article:

Studies on treating complicated grief show that it isn’t alleviated with depression treatments such as antidepressants, O’Connor says. “That kind of treatment doesn’t hit on the patients’ yearnings. What is most effective is talk therapy and exposure therapy that helps the person incorporate the death on a deep level. Also, it’s helpful to have the patient focus on her future goals, on what she is going to do now that her loved one is gone.” (read the rest here)

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13 thoughts on “Grief: It’s complicated

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  1. Hey Prys,

    @Ari,

    Your comment was encouraging to me.

    I’ve gone to counselling until there was nothing left to talk about. Nothing. Same old stuff over and over.

    Yup. Same here. Going to start seeing a new shrink. We moved fairly far away from our house that was destroyed by a tornado, and so wanted to try a new shrink that’s 5 minutes away and who also happens to have a lot of experience with tornado survivors as his town was destroyed, like ours was. He was not there, though, and I was.

    But, yes, I just go to a shrink now, because it gives me someone to talk to other than burdening my friends and husband. I don’t expect much more than a warm body to talk at.

    But getting nowhere. I’ve been taking antidepressants of some flavor for 15 years. Currently its Paxil + Wellbutrin + Ritalin.

    I-yi yi yi!! OK, you’ve got me beat!

    I’ve read book after book, taken psychology courses, learned about competing theories and attempted to apply them to my situation. But essentially, nothing prompted me to change my existing treatment options in any meaninful fashion.

    I do believe there is a level of grief I have probably been cut off from experiencing as a result of the numbing affect of my meds.The unprocessed stuff has been like a ball and chain that progressively weakened me until I could not walk another step.

    Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, definately can’t get around it. I must go through it. There is no other option for me anymore. In reality there never was one.

    Pete

    That sounds like your challenge then!

    Excuse my Buddhism, but the First Noble Truth is that suffering exists – pain, grief, anger and even positive emotions. Then it goes through the ways suffering can be eliminated. But suffering, including grief, IMHO, is just part of life. In Buddhism there are what are called just “challenges”. One person’s challenge may be overcoming greed, another person, maybe have a physical ailment, another a mental ailment but the thing these challenges all have in common is that they are suffering.

    At the stage I am with meditation with biofeedback, I have come to the conclusion that thoughts themselves cause suffering. For example if I dwell on “why can’t my mother be alive”, and then I meditate, and do not think that thought, then that thought loses it’s power over me. I don’t know, works for me! So far, so good!

    What others mentioned, also, about alternative therapy – I’ve been taking yoga for about 20 years off and on and I know how your “stuff”, especially “grief” gets stuck in your body. Yoga, tai chi help unblock your energy. Also seeing a massage therapist can help. In many of the alternative therapies there is no differentiation between what is going on in the mind and what is going on in the body, it’s seen as a whole.

    Good luck.

    Best,
    Ari

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  2. As for grief. Yes, grief is at the root of the human condition, and of much misery. And no it is not a neurochemical imbalance to be treated with drugs. We are wired to form social bonds, because we need these bonds to be raised by our parents, and to mate and raise our children in turn. Obviously those who did not perform this function effectively were wiped out of the gene pool. However the irony is that these bonds caused us to form intense connections, mother to son, husband to wife, etc. These connections with other human beings are amongst the most intense experiences we can have as human beings. When these connections are suddenly broken by death the ramifications can be endless. The grieving process is there to help us mend, but that process does not always go smoothly, for a number of reasons. And there’s the rub.

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  3. @Ari,

    Your comment was encouraging to me.

    I’ve gone to counselling until there was nothing left to talk about. Nothing. Same old stuff over and over. But getting nowhere. I’ve been taking antidepressants of some flavor for 15 years. Currently its Paxil + Wellbutrin + Ritalin. I’ve read book after book, taken psychology courses, learned about competing theories and attempted to apply them to my situation. But essentially, nothing prompted me to change my existing treatment options in any meaninful fashion.

    I do believe there is a level of grief I have probably been cut off from experiencing as a result of the numbing affect of my meds.The unprocessed stuff has been like a ball and chain that progressively weakened me until I could not walk another step.

    Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, definately can’t get around it. I must go through it. There is no other option for me anymore. In reality there never was one.

    Pete

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  4. Doug,
    Since I’m already hooked to psych-drugs and have been on so many I would not mind volunteering for the clinical trial.
    I can even find the husband and prepare all the ceremony.
    New side effects are not problems any longer and I doubt there are new drugs that I haven’t try. So I would know not only side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
    Perhaps with all these I’m not a good volunteer.
    Labs rather use healthy ones like Tracy Johnson.
    As far as vets are concerned those from Vietnam and all wars pre-SSRIs and who were diagnosed as “neurotics” were much better treated.
    Philip Dawdy has recently published an article about the concern of the use of antidepressants and suicides of soldiers.
    Young soldiers.

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  5. Oh, I must have complicated grief! Quick, what pill is there I can take?

    I realized recently, that I could not have a productive relationship with my brother, one year difference in age. I realized that I could never have a productive relationship with my father, who abused me very badly as a child. It’s as if he wants to continue the dynamic of abuse, but now it’s just verbal.

    Just this morning, I was missing my mother, who died in 1997. I am sometimes angry with God about leaving a bunch of creeps for my genetic family, and the one person who truly loved me, who had a productive relationship is my mother. And she’s dead. I decided that rather than deny my feelings, which I had, early this morning, that I would feel them.

    Is there ever a “resolution” to grief? Isn’t grief the price we pay for love? And what about all the pills I’m taking? What about my gram of seroquel, my 2mgs of Xanax Xr, my Ambien CR, my . . . . I could go on. I’m still feeling grief, so, what, now, lock me in the loony bin?

    The one drug that I was on for around 20 years was prozac. I have passed my one year mark on not taking prozac, amazing since this year I was almost killed by a tornado, and we lost all of our posessions.

    I have noticed that since I have been off prozac, that I have all kinds of emotions. Some are good, and some are bad. I’d rather live with those, than deny them for my entire life. At least I have some chance of resolving the issues.

    As many have mentioned above, alternative therapy is great. Massage is great. Meditation and biofeedback I’m doing are fantastic. Going and riding my horse is great.

    There is nothing wrong with feeling grief, and my husband, who has no mental illness, still misses his father, who died in 1990.

    And, thankfully, I do have the most wonderful husband in the world, and he has a wonderful family. I don’t need my genetic family anymore.

    Best,
    Ari

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  6. Doug,

    I’ve got a brother-in-law who served a tour…many years ago….Gunnery Sgt in the Marine Corps….

    He could write a book on the “long line” you speak of….

    Maybe one day we’ll stop trying to force those who come back from these tours to take mind-altering drugs, and offer them a little more in the way of respect, warmth, and appreciation for who they are, and what they went through.

    Duane

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  7. Drug for newlyweds. Great Idea. I’ve got a name for it. How about ‘Spousabrate’?

    Drugs for grieving. Veterans used to tell me that they couldn’t grieve recent losses cuz they had a long line of people including buddies from the war to grieve before them. I never knew what they meant but recently grieved 43 years later for the mother I lost when I was a small child (and didn’t have the opportunity to grieve for at the time). Amazing.

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  8. I will never understand prescribing drug for grievance.
    I don’t even think that therapy is necessary. It’s part of human condition. If grievance is seem as a disease I don’t understand what is it normal human emotions any more.
    Perhaps newly-weeds should also take some drug because it’s too stressful. Preparing the ceremony, relations with friends, relatives…

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  9. Grief, yeah… as you know, I’ve never taken anti-depressants, but I’ve had plenty of grief to deal with. Though, I have done plenty of talking, writing, yoga and gotten a lot of massage. I find massage particularly effective for helping work ‘crap’ out of my body.

    After one hot stone massage I had, I started crying and couldn’t stop. But it was a very good thing, actually. A release.

    I’m not anti-drugs for those who need or want to use them. I just think its far from the only way to heal.

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  10. My mother’s been on countless drugs since my father’s death in 2007. Nothing worked. I always said she needed therapy but she was non-compliant. It’s not an easy road.

    Like

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