It is not uncommon for people to question whether they – or someone they know – is depressed after a bereavement or significant loss. For most people, the emotional, psychological and physical symptoms experienced after a death can be attributed to normal grief. However, this is not always the case.

Grief & Mental Illness

Grief itself is not a mental illness. It has been debated many times over the years as to whether grief is in fact pathological and it is not listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (the medical bible if you like) as such.

The one thing professionals are clear on is that grief can become complicated (cue the article I wrote over on Life Coach Directory), and sometimes involve pro-longed trauma. So on this basis, it can therefore develop into mental illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety and clinical depression. Those who already have mental illness and have experienced loss, may also find their symptoms become more severe during the grieving period – which was my experience having had anxiety since my teenage years.

In addition, cultural and circumstantial factors contribute to how people express and cope with it loss. That being said, it is suggested around 60% of people who are grieving are able to move through the process without any professional help and support.

People who are experiencing major depression tend to be isolated and feel disconnected from others and find it difficult to reach out for any such support. Therefore, they are at greater risk of slipping into clinical depression during the grieving process.

So what’s the difference?

Grief is a natural response to loss and bereavement. There is no timeline and is experience at an individual level. Grief includes a whole raft of emotions and typically includes an overwhelming sense of sadness but not always.

Grief and depression have some symptoms in common, and as I said, a pro-longed period of grief can lead to depressive state. In both, you can experience acute sadness, and other emotional states such as anger. Both can also lead to physical symptoms such as sleep disruption or weight loss.

Typical grief might include:

  • Change in appetite
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Tearfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoidance of people and situations
  • Thoughts of wanting to “join a loved one”
  • Anger, sadness, loneliness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Self-neglect
  • Loss of interest in work or activities
  • Anger at self, deceased person, circumstances, etc.

There are other factors, however, which separates depression into its own category. For starters, you don’t usually experience clinical depression due to a specific life event. It is a more persistent and internal state, often marked by low self-worth and disinterest in normal daily activities. Depression can also manifest physically in the form of fatigue, aggression or delusions, and it typically does not subside without some form of intervention.

An individual with depression will focus inward on themselves. They will experience negative feelings, whereas someone experiencing grief is focused on their loss or an external circumstance.

It is however, worth bearing in mind that there are different types of clinical depression, and the symptoms can also vary. As a general rule, I would say if you have any concerns, please go and see your GP.

Potential signs of major depression include:

  • Low mood or irritability
  • Poor appetite / significant weight loss
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Sluggish movements
  • Fatigue / loss of energy
  • Worthlessness, low self-esteem, powerlessness and hopelessness
  • Exaggerated guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Agitation
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Impairment in functioning

What to do if you suspect depression

If you find that you or a loved one identifies with several of the symptoms of depression, it is important to see your GP or a clinical mental health professional.

While depression is typically treated with talking therapy and/or medication, grief is generally not treated with medication.

Many bereaved people have find individual or group support to be helpful in finding ways to cope with their grief. Please seek help if you or a loved one is struggling with grief or depression. I’m here to help with that.

If you or somebody you know is at immediate risk of self-harm or having suicidal thoughts, please contact 1116 123 now.

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