WHO Guide to Mental and Neurological Health in Primary Care
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Homepage :: Adult disorders :: Bereavement and loss :: Diagnostic features

Diagnostic features

Besides the emotional response to loss, symptoms resembling depression can occur:

  • low or sad mood
  • disturbed sleep
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest
  • restlessness
  • guilt or self-criticism about actions not taken by the person before the death of the loved one
  • transient hallucinations of the deceased person such as hearing their voice
  • thoughts of joining the deceased.

The patient may:

  • withdraw from usual activities and social contacts
  • find it difficult to think of the future
  • increase his/her use of drugs or alcohol.

Patient presentation can be obvious, but it can also be hidden. Adverse reactions to loss may only be revealed after careful questioning.  It may be possible to identify certain individuals who are at particular risk (eg social isolation, history of mental illness, previous unresolved grief). Assessing the impact of the loss and the coping strategies available is important in guiding management. Taking time, perhaps over a couple of appointments, may be necessary.

Last edited: 15/9/2003

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