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What Is the Relationship between Mourning and Melancholia?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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The relationship between mourning and melancholia hinges on whether a person who suffers a loss can overcome grief and recover. Mourning and melancholia begin with feelings of denial when a person or abstract ideal, such as freedom, dies. Sadness is considered a healthy response in the first stages of grieving that contributes to the healing process. When mourning becomes internalized, it might lead to melancholia and deep depression.

Theories about the relationship between mourning and melancholia stem from the work of Sigmund Freud in 1917. Freud wrote that mourning is a normal reaction to the loss of a love object, which is consciously known and identifiable. Melancholia develops when the sadness is inappropriate to the situation and becomes internalized. The person suffering from melancholia identifies the lost object or person with himself or herself on an unconscious level, leading to ego loss.

Mourning and melancholia differ in how a person responds to a loss. During the grieving process, normal grief eventually eases when a person emotionally detaches from the lost person or object and replaces sadness with other emotions. If this process fails to evolve, severe depression might develop, marked by sadistic tendencies.

Melancholic patients might seek revenge against the lost loved one by tormenting themselves. The normal stage of bereavement defined as anger turns inward and becomes a conflict between love and hate that attacks the ego, according to Freud’s theory. These patients might feel deeply dejected and lose all interest in external activities.

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They typically become depressed and lose the ability to love others or themselves. Melancholia patients might be filled with self-hatred and low self-esteem when the anger gets displaced. These emotions might cause the person to stop eating and sleeping and react with dysfunctional behaviors. Such emotions might also lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Mourning and melancholia represent topics of various research projects over the years to test Freud’s theory. Neurological advances in medicine show changes in brain patterns in people who fail to move through the mourning process in an emotionally healthy way. Melancholia is considered a mental health disorder that may respond to psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.

Melancholia differs from other forms of depression commonly seen when people mourn. It is defined as major depression that might cause manic-depressive episodes or psychosis. The patient sometimes fixates on a particular topic or idea and feels an intense sense of guilt. The brooding typically appears worse in the early morning, especially if the person cannot sleep. He or she commonly loses all interest in sex and other pleasurable activities.

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