Grieving or Depression


When one has been experiencing grief for an extended time, it is normal to question whether one is dealing with grieving or depression. Grieving and depression overlap, depression is an integral part of grief.  Grief is a healthy and natural reaction to a major loss.  Depression associated with bereavement is normal, provided it does not go on to long.


The timing differs from one individual to another, but some agree that intense symptoms of emotional distress generally last between six and twelve months, with less intense grieving continuing for one to three years.


Extreme stress associated with grief can trigger medical illness or an episode of clinical depression which may require professional assistance to overcome.  If one suspects that one has moved beyond normal grieving into depression, it is best to seek a medical opinion.  There are various types of depression and it is to complex to self-diagnose, professional assistance is required.


Symptoms of Depression


Many of the symptoms listed under grief are also found in depression, especially appetite and sleep disturbances, anger, tearfulness and loss of interest.  Depression may also include a preoccupation with worthlessness, and a severe loss of self esteem. While normal grieving may include a passive wish to join the loved one, actual suicidal behavior is a warning sign that grief has progressed into depression and requires professional help.


Symptoms of Grief


Symptoms include shock, disbelief, confusion, anger, irritability, guilt, intensely painful feelings of loss, sadness, sighing, sobbing, numbness, emptiness, yearning for what is lost, regret, loss of interest in daily activities,  poor appetite or overeating, sleep disturbances such as insomnia or excessive sleeping, trouble concentrating and fatigue. The bereaved often feel as though they are always tired.  Social function and productivity at work or school may be impaired.


Differences Between Grief & Depression


Depressed people tend to focus more on themselves, where grieving people tend to be more focused on what was lost.  A grieving person usually experiences lighter days and happy moments during the grieving process.  Depressed people exhibit little fluctuation in mood and carry a more pervasive sense of emptiness and hopelessness.


While depression is a normal part of the grieving process, the difference seems to lie mainly in the length of time.  Those who are still very depressed six months after the death are at high risk of becoming clinically depressed.  Don’t try to diagnose, give it time, and if a total lack of interaction continues to prevail, consult a psychologist for help.


If you are concerned about depression and need someone to talk to contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, in Funeral Guide’s useful links.  To avoid your grief turning into depression, we recommend reading Funeral Guide’s ‘Grief Survival Tips’, which shows us many natural ways to feel better.