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Expert Q&A

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How can I move on after son's death?

Asked by Trena, Cerritos, California

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My baby boy died January 12, and my life has been a nightmare ever since. I have tried therapy, and I have been prescribed different antidepressants and nothing seems to help. I'm told I have post-traumatic stress disorder due to the nature of his death. Is there any natural alternative? Are there any other options out there, be it holistic or medicinal? How long does the grief last? I want to feel better for the sake of my other kids, but I just feel worse.

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Mental Health Expert Dr. Charles Raison Psychiatrist,
Emory University Medical School

Expert answer

Dear Trena,

My heart breaks for you and your situation. Having young children, it takes no imagination on my part to imagine the horror and heartbreak of losing such beautiful little beings.

So the first thing you should know is that your reaction, while problematic, is most likely not abnormal. I admire you wanting to find ways to put your suffering behind you enough to help your other children.

We know from many studies that the type of trauma that you are experiencing as the result of the death of a child can negatively affect the mental health of the dead child's siblings. So you are right to be concerned.

And I want to suggest to you that you utilize your caring for your living children as a reason to seek healing and as a path for recovering.

Before we talk about specific therapeutic options, I want to suggest that choosing to focus as much as you can on your children, on who they are and on what they need from you, may provide a path out of your heartbreak. Their lives may remind you of your lost child, which may increase your pain initially.

So it is important that you don't beat yourself up if you find it difficult, or impossible, to focus fully on your other children. Just try your hardest, cut yourself a break if you're not perfect and try again.

There are natural products that have been shown to help with depression and anxiety, although you should know that they have not been as well-studied as standard antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents.

In collaboration with your clinician, you might consider omega-3 fatty acids, SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine, pronounced "Sammy"), St. John's wort or valerian.

Again, chemicals -- whether pharmaceutical or nutraceutical -- might be of some value, but I think your long-term best interests lie with behavioral interventions.

We've discussed therapy. In terms of less traditional options, there are many. What you are looking for is something that will help you make sense of your loss in a way that will allow you to continue to suffer but to return to full joyful engagement with the life that stretches before you.

I don't know you well enough to have a sense of what to suggest in this regard. Many people benefit from a spiritual practice -- be it church attendance, yoga or meditation.

For the sake of yourself and your children, you should also make a commitment to adopting the healthiest lifestyle you can in terms of diet and obtaining regular aerobic exercise.

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