Depression is distinct from grief in family members of patients in a vegetative state

Couple Holding Hands

Patients in a vegetative state may never recover from their severe brain injuries and regain consciousness. The family members of these patients are under an extreme mental and psychological burden in that they know there is limited chance of recovery, even with signs of primitive responsiveness.

This paradox between signs of life and death can create complicated feelings of grief in family members. The decreased interest in social activity, loss of interest in friends and hobbies, and feelings of isolation that may be experienced by a family member can often be interpreted as depression. A recent study, however, proposed that Prolonged Grief Disorder (an intense feeling of longing and yearning for the lost person) is a better description of their feelings.

The study determined that depression and Prolonged Grief Disorder are two distinct conditions. A family member may experience both conditions, but those who suffer from Prolonged Grief Disorder are at much higher risk of experiencing a chronic and disabling psychological state that puts them at great risk for suicide. Prolonged Grief Disorder should therefore be acknowledged and treated as a distinct condition common in family members of patients in a vegetative state.

Chiambretto P, Moroni L, Guarnerio C, Bertolotti G, & Prigerson H. Prolonged grief and depression in caregivers of patients in vegetative state. Brain Injury. (April 2010).