The Difference Between Grief and Depression
When grieving people feel sad we often say that they are depressed, but the sadness from grief
is not the same as the sadness of depression because grief is not an illness. Grief is the emotional, psychological, physical
and spiritual pain we feel when a person close to us dies. It is a normal human reaction caused by our love and attachment
to the deceased loved one. Sadness is an expected part of grief and it is a natural response following the loss.
Depression is a treatable illness and one of several common mood disorders marked by loss of interest or pleasure in living,
decreased self-esteem, shame, feelings of hopelessness and despair. Many people suffering from depression cannot imagine ever
feeling better. The mood disturbance in depression is pervasive and unremitting and any positive mood fluctuation is usually
minor without treatment intervention.
Shame and guilt are common in depression. When they occur in grief they
often involve feelings of not having done enough for the deceased before his or her death, or regret over things said and
done while the person was alive. In depression, the feelings arise from a fundamental belief that one is wicked or worthless.
Persons who have experienced previous depressions are especially at risk for becoming depressed at times of profound
loss. Treating a griever’s clinical depression is a balancing act because sadness is
an appropriate, natural stage of loss and clinical depression is a disorder. As difficult as they are to endure, both sadness
and depression slow us down and take us to deeper places that allow for healing.
Major depression, however,
has the potential to become a medical emergency with risk for suicide. For the most part, grievers do not want to kill themselves,
but the threat of suicide from anyone must be taken seriously. To read more about suicide, please click Thoughts of Suicide During Grief.
In the United States, one in ten men and one in five women will suffer from depression
at some point in their lives. Grief is universal to any person who experiences loss. Depression and grief share many features:
sadness, tearfulness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, social withdrawal, forgetfulness, appetite and weight changes and poor sleep.
Grievers can also lose interest or pleasure in living, and cannot imagine ever feeling better because life is unbearable;
but the mood fluctuations come in waves washing over the griever and the dark moods respond to empathy, support, and most
of all, the passage of time. Even in deep raw grief, moments of happy reminiscences are possible.
intensely painful and sad, moves us towards learning how to live without our loved one in a forever-changed world. The reactive
depression of prolonged grief, however, is a destructive "stuck place" that causes us even more pain because we
cannot move forward.
Friends and family often react to sadness by avoidance or becoming eternal cheerleaders because
most people cannot tolerate melancholia for extended periods of time. Seek out those few who can sit with you without telling
you to cheer up or get on with your life.
Grief has no timetable and no absolutes. Grief may be universal, but
we all grieve in our own way. How bad do we have to feel before we seek outside help? There are moments in all our lives when
we can benefit from professional counseling but only you can decide: How sad is sad?
If you have clinical depression or bipolar disorder: (*)
· Stay on your medication(s).
Try to get regular sleep and eat balanced meals.
· Participate in psychotherapy if you can afford it.
Become involved with a support group.
· Read and learn about your illness.
· When seeing your doctor,
never assume competence until it is demonstrated.
· Compile a list of questions before any
appointment. Question everything.
(*)From BP Magazine: Hope and Harmony for People with Bipolar, “Kay
Redfield Jamison: A Profile in Courage,” by Jacqueline L. Salmon, Winter, 2009, page 30.
Health Resources: Information and Toll-free Helplines
Mental Health Association: www.nmha.org, 1-800-969- 6642
of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov, 1-866- 615-6464
National Alliance on Mental Illness:
www.nami.org, 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264)
information source for this article: Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry. Ninth Edition, Philadelphia,
PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2003, pg. 63.
The information presented here is general and is not intended
as medical advice. Please get professional guidance if you need it.
Go to next page:
Loving in Separation