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Hägglund, T. (1981). From Depression to Mourning. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 4(1):17-26.

(1981). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 4(1):17-26

From Depression to Mourning

Tor-Björn Hägglund, M.D.

Mental pain of the kind Freud (1926) described, and later Joffe & Sandler (1965, 1968) discussed, occurs in response to loss, frustration, illness and other stressful life experiences. In conceptualizing psychoanalysis as a psychology of adaptation to both inner and outer worlds, Joffe & Sandler (1968) said: Changes in the feeling state and in the representations associated with these changes provide the impetus for the development of psychological structures and represent the ultimate basis for the ego's regulatory activities.” (p. 453). The psychic pain inherent in depression is, however, qualitatively in content and in transformation quite different compared with psychic pain in mourning. Although the attitude of the subject to the external world may be the same, in some respects, in both depression and in mourning, his inner world and his relation to his inner objects are quite different.

Bibring (1953) was the first to distinguish normal depressive affect from depressive illness, and he emphasized the central significance of the feeling of helplessness in depressive affect and depressive illness. Since then, there has been a trend toward including both helplessness and hopelessness as important part-aspects of depressive affect (Joffe & Sandler, 1965). Dorpat (1977) defines the depressive affect as follows: “Depressive affect is a conscious, preconscious, or unconscious affect in which the subject feels helpless and hopeless about attaining certain aims.” (p. 3). In the following, I propose to inspect depression as a feeling and affect rather than an illness.

In depressive affect the focus of the person's concern is upon himself and his inabilities to attain certain aims; grief, sadness, and mourning affects involve his painful preoccupation with a lost object and his relationship with that lost object.

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