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Grief is an unavoidable and normal experience following any significant loss. But it can take intense forms that surprise a bereaved person. If these feelings or symptoms occurred in other circumstances, it might readily be called a depression.

In the case of the death of a loved one, depression-like symptoms are fairly common in the first few months. Symptoms can include odd illusions, such as imagining that the dead are still alive, feeling their presence, or hearing them call out. These symptoms can be very upsetting, but are usually within the range of normal responses to the loss. They call for comfort and practical assistance.

The symptoms can linger, though, making it difficult for the bereaved person to function. When symptoms go on for a long time -- more than 6 months -- without any sign of improving or resolving, treatment may ease the emotional pain and help the person go back to participating in life.

The risk of developing this kind of problem (sometimes called complicated grief) depends on both the immediate circumstances of the death or loss and the background against which it occurs. Also, some people are simply more vulnerable to developing depression after a significant loss, for example, because of their genetic make-up or how their ability to cope has developed over time.

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