Background. This review tackles the question: 'Is bereavement related depression (BRD) the same or different from standard (non-bereavement-related) major depression (SMD)?' To answer this question, we examined published data on key characteristics that define and characterize SMD to assess whether they also characterize BRD.
Method. We searched all English-language reports in Medline up to November 2006 to identify relevant studies. Bibliographies of located articles were searched for additional studies.
Results. Consistent with the position that BRD is distinct from SMD, some, but not all, studies report that men are as likely as women to have BRD and that past or family histories of SMD do not predict BRD. With greater consistency, studies suggest that, like SMD, BRD is: more common in younger than in older adults, predicated by poor health or low social support, followed by recurrent episodes of major depressive episode (MDE), and associated with impaired immunological responses, altered sleep architecture, and responsivity to antidepressant treatment.
Conclusions. Overall, the prevailing evidence more strongly supports similarities than differences between BRD and SMD. Because so few studies focus on BRD occurring within the first 2 months of bereavement, the period identified by the DSM to exclude the diagnosis of MDE, more research is needed specifically on this group to help us evaluate the validity of this important diagnostic convention.