Yearning is the primary emotion felt after the death of a loved one, say scientists. This is in contrast to depression being the primary emotion and the one felt most intensely, according to previous research.
The researchers from the Harvard Medical School and Yale University School of Medicine came about their conclusions while interviewing what they call the 'typical bereaved American'- white, elderly-above 60 years, and who has lost a spouse due to a non- traumatic natural cause.
The researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, recommend that the standard psychiatric reference, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, should be revamped to focus less on depression after the death of a loved one.
As part of their experiments, they interviewed 233 people in the Yale Bereavement Study for up to two years following the death of a loved one from natural causes.
The participants in the study were mostly widows. Though they did experience the five stages of grief in the sequence popularized by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's description of terminally ill patients yet, yearning was the most powerful negative emotion. It was also seen that on average, the participants' worst feelings peaked within six months.
The level of acceptance, which was recorded as the most common emotion of all, was seen to rise steadily over six months.
The DSM, which focuses exclusively on depressive symptoms, says that they should be expected two months after a loss.
The researchers led by Holly G. Prigerson, director of the Center for Psycho-Oncology and Palliative Care Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, opine that once a person continues to feel depressed beyond 6 months, he or she might need help and should be considered for counseling.
Concludes Prigerson about the study: "This study basically shows that yearning is the dominant negative grief symptom following the loss, not disbelief, sadness or depression.
"And, overall, the main reaction was a high degree of acceptance", she adds.