As a psychologist, grief expert and widow, I get a lot of questions about grief and depression – both from individuals dealing with loss, as well as friends and family members with loved ones dealing with a loss.
Common questions include:
“Is this more of a reaction to grief, or is this crossing over into depression?”
“How can I show up for a loved one living with grief?”
“How do I know if I am clinically depressed?”
This blog will help you differentiate between grief and depression and help you know exactly what to do when you’re seeing signs or symptoms, whether it’s for yourself, for a friend, or for a loved one.
Grief is a reaction to an identifiable loss in your life. Any of the signs or symptoms that you are experiencing can be linked to something external that you’ve just experienced.
In comparison, depression may or may not be connected to a loss. In fact, there might be nothing specific that has caused this particular set of symptoms.
When you are dealing with grief, your focus is on the loss you have experienced and the person (job, pet, etc) you are missing. It’s external.
When you are feeling depressed, your focus is on yourself – how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking. It’s internal.
While it is normal to want to skip certain social situations to allow yourself the space to heal and breathe, overall you don’t feel a need to isolate yourself from everyone in your life. Rather, it’s comforting to be around friends and loved ones.
Isolating from friends and family, withdrawing, and shutting down are common when living with clinical depression. It isn’t at all comforting to be around others and can often make things worse.
When grieving, your emotions will fluctuate. You will still be able to experience positive emotions, such as pleasure, joy, and gratitude… even if these feelings are less frequent.
In comparison, depression is the inability to experience any positive emotions at all. People with depression tend to report feeling stuck as well as a pervasive lack of emotions.
“I just want to be with him again” is a common thought for people who have experienced a traumatic loss. It’s a longing to be reunited and to reconnect with the person they have lost. It is not an active thought or desire to harm oneself.
In comparison depression is not about reconnecting with someone or something. It’s about wanting to disappear and escape the suffocation of feelings, and this can result in thoughts or actions of self harm.
It is never a bad idea to find support. Treatment such as medication or therapy might be right for you, but it isn’t required. Depression, on the other hand, requires help from a medical professional.
If you feel like your grief is taking over your life and interfering with your daily functioning, please reach out to a mental health professional to find a treatment plan that works for you.
The morning after my husband passed away and I was living with an all-consuming grief, I went back on my medication for anxiety and depression. I also got into therapy – twice a week. I knew it was not going to be an easy time and I wanted as much support as possible to get through it.
Clinical depression is a mental health illness that urgently needs treatment. Treatment plans differ for each person and it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional to find the right plan for you. This might even include experimenting with a few different treatment plans until you find the right one.
Tune in to The Be Ruthless Show to hear more about grief vs depression.
Please share this blog with someone who you think will benefit from understanding the difference between grief and depression. These are important conversations to share and the more we speak openly about grief, mental health, and mental illness – the better the world will be.
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