Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 February 2010
The death of a person is a stressful event. Such stress affects the physical and psychological well-being of the bereaved. As an associated mental disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD) is common. Some dream of the deceased, and these dreams are called bereavement dreams. Some MDD patients also experience dreams. These two types of dreams are sometimes difficult to differentiate. The dream of the bereaved might be only a bereavement-related dream, yet it might be a symptom of MDD. Herein, we report one patient who had distressing dreams after the death of her mother.
A 63-year-old woman was referred for psychiatric consultation because of generalized fatigue and insomnia. Questioning her about recent events, she said that her mother had died of colonic carcinoma 5 months previously. Two months after the death, she suddenly started dreaming of her mother, getting angry with her almost every night. Generalized fatigue, insomnia, and distressing dreams appeared simultaneously. The dream caused much distress, making her afraid to fall asleep.
Her psychiatric features fulfilled the DSM-IV-TR criteria for MDD, single episode. The death of her mother was considered to be one of the causes of MDD. She was administered 25 mg/day of sertraline hydrochloride. After that, her symptoms gradually disappeared, and the frequency of distressing dreams was reduced. Five months later, physical and psychiatric symptoms of MDD were completely resolved. Subsequently, she has not suffered from any distressing dreams of her mother.
This case indicates that dreams experienced after the death of a loved one should not be regarded simply as bereavement dreams. Some of the dreams may be symptoms of MDD. If the dreams are the symptoms of MDD, antidepressant treatment as well as psychotherapy may be useful. Therefore, we should avoid regarding symptoms of MDD as reactions to bereavement.
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