In a recent Memorial Day speech, Vice President Joe Biden recalled the tragic loss of his wife and child several decades ago.
He stated that you never really get over a loss like that and was frank in describing how he now understood why people consider suicide during times of immense grief.
Grief has been heavily studied by psychologists. Although there are many theories and we know that different people grieve in different ways, psychologists are not in agreement about what constitutes normal grief.
Instead, grief is best assessed according to the magnitude of the loss. When grief interferes with a person’s daily activities and functioning for an extended period of time, that person may need help from a mental health professional.
Stages of Grief
Mental health professionals often talk of grief as something that comes in stages. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s model, during which a person moves from denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to acceptance, is the best-known approach.
However, there are several models of grief. A person may seem fine one day, then have trouble functioning, and then return to normal functioning, bouncing back and forth for an extended period of time.
Some mental health professionals have recently advocated for adding the diagnosis of “extended grief.” This diagnosis would be given to someone who grieves for six months or more, with symptoms of depression and decreased functioning.
However, many other professionals have railed against this suggestion, arguing that grief is normal and can last anywhere from a few days to many years. Vice President Biden’s speech makes it clear that people can grieve for decades while still functioning at a high level — well enough, in fact, to become vice president.
Grief and Depression
A variety of factors increase a person’s risk for depression, but grief is among the most common causes of depression. While grief is directed toward a specific object of sadness, depression is general sadness that occurs, regardless of circumstances.
Grief weakens coping skills and can lead to isolation.