Bereavement or Depression? The Impact of the Loss of a Friend to Suicide

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Abstract

Objective:

To determine whether the depressive reactions experienced by youth exposed to suicide were uncomplicated bereavement or bona fide major depression.

Method:

In a sample of 146 friends and acquaintances of 26 adolescent suicide victims, 43 (29%) developed a depressive episode subsequent to exposure to suicide, 18 were depressed before exposure, and 85 were never depressed. The three groups were compared.

Results:

Those who became depressed after exposure were similar to those who were depressed before exposure. Both depressed groups differed from the nondepressed exposed group with respect to functional impairment, depressive symptom pattern and severity, convergent validity with other measures of depression, personal and family history of depression, and stressful life events. Previous depressives showed greater comorbidity with nonaffective disorders than those who became depressed after exposure. Those who became depressed after exposure compared with both the previous and nondepressives had a closer relationship with the suicide victims, showed more severe grief, and showed more intense exposure to the suicide.

Conclusions:

Depressive reactions occurring after exposure to suicide appear to be bona fide major depression, occurring as a complication of bereavement. Youth exposed to suicide should be carefully screened and followed up. Should a symptomatic picture of depression and functional impairment ensue, such exposed youth should be treated accordingly for a major depressive episode. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry, 1993, 32, 6:1189–1197.

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