Grief vs. Depression

Losing a loved one is a jarring and tragic experience. It brings on a period of grief and mourning filled with feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, and reliving of the past shared with the deceased going back years. People amid the mourning process have described such feelings as loss of appetite, nausea, tearfulness, restless sleep, guilt about not being able to prevent the death from having occurred, and deep feelings of sadness. Many have described the feelings of grief sweeping over them and then subsiding until the process starts again. 

Reliving and talking about the person who has died can come with laughter, as those grieving remember funny and warm times. However, there is now a controversy over whether grief differs from grieving?

Ultimately, the psychiatrist must use their judgment on whether the patient is grieving or having a major depressive episode. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual shows differences between grief and major depression. Let’s look at the differences and similarities in symptoms of grieving after a loss instead of Major-Depression.

Symptoms of Grief:

1. Sadness, despair, mourning

2. Fatigue or low energy

3. Tears

4. Loss of appetite

5. Poor sleep

6. Poor concentration

7. Happy and sad memories

8. Mild feelings of guilt

Gradually and after an undetermined time, these feelings remain as the individual regains equilibrium as they return to everyday life.

Many of these symptoms are similar to the feeling of people with Major-Depression. Still, significantly different symptoms are part of the profile.

Major Depression:

1. Worthlessness

2. Exaggerated guilt

3. Suicidal thoughts

4. Low self-esteem

5. Powerlessness

6. Helplessness

7. Agitation

8. Loss of interest in pleasurable activities

9. Exaggerated fatigue

In major depression, these feelings are ongoing and carry the real danger of suicide. Daily functioning at work and home is impaired, and the individual feels as if they will never climb out of these feelings.

An essential difference between grief and Major-Depression is that, in major depression, the feelings of loss of the loved one are compensated for by warm memories. One friend recently told me that his beloved childhood people are alive in him as beautiful memories.

The death of a loved one often results in feelings of emptiness. But, for those who suffer from depression, nothing, not even warm memories, compensates for the loss. Freud referred to this in his classic book, “Mourning and Melancholia,” in which he pointed out that the one who is depressed turns their energy into attacking the self rather than integrating loved ones who are now gone.

 Some people hold onto the mistaken belief that mourning last for two weeks. However, who is to say that it takes only two weeks to grieve? The time spent mourning a loved one varies according to each individual. The danger of a mistaken diagnosis is that a physician might prescribe antidepressant medication when none is needed. But, that is where the experience and expertise of the MD are essential. Ultimately, mourning runs its course and resolves itself.

 Of course, where someone has Majord-Depression and is also grieving, the grief process may be complicated by the fact of depression. It is also possible that, for some people, the death of a loved one can turn into a depression.

Diagnosing people with any mental illness is complicated and dangerous if the diagnosis is incorrect.

The reader needs to understand that psychotherapy is always available to help those individuals who are in pain. Help is available.

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