The following is a list of symptoms associated with major depression:
A persistent feeling of sadness
Loss of interest
Changes in appetite
Decreased energy level
Thoughts of suicide
Inability to feel pleasure
Loss of appetite
Lack of concentration
Weight gain or loss
All of these symptoms can also be caused by grief. Why bother differentiating between grief and depression? Because grief is a natural reaction to loss and the accrual of losses as one ages. Depression can be exogenous (catalyzed by external events) or endogenous (come from within, like a mid-life crisis, or existential depression). It can be acute or chronic, mild to severe, difficult or debilitating. The most compelling reason to make the distinction between grief and depression is: If you know you are suffering from grief your expectations are different from those you might have if you think you are depressed. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. Everyone experiences it, though some with more awareness, compassion, and patience for themselves than others. If you mistake your grief for depression you might take antidepressant medication. Conversely, if you don’t pathologize your experience and recognize it as grief, you could ride its waves.
Grief is not a mental illness, even though it may look like one; especially, if you are experiencing complicated grief. Grief can result from obvious life experiences, like death of a loved one or pet, and less obvious experiences, like job loss, diagnosis of illness, a move that takes you away from friends and family, divorce, retirement, and even the natural effects of aging.
Another major reason to figure out whether you are dealing with depression or grief is that with depression it is all too easy to create a second layer of feelings such as anger, guilt, anxiety, and even more depression as you think things like:
I shouldn’t feel depressed.
I should be stronger and fight this.
I am such a failure.
I will always feel this lousy.
It’s horrible to feel depressed.
I can’t stand it!
You can also have secondary issues with grief if you think:
I should be over this already.
I hate it when I cry in public, it’s so shameful.
What’s wrong with me?
I’ll never stop feeling this sad and that will be awful.
The difference is that secondary issues are far more common with depression than with grief because grief is a healthy, human reaction to loss. Any loss, and the accumulation of losses over a lifetime. Depression effects some people, grief effects everyone.
Depression typically hides anger. Grief, on the other hand, may shape-shift into anger, but it isn’t usually hiding other emotions. The kaleidoscope of feelings grief can mimic simply appear as they are felt.
If you know you have experienced a recent loss, or something has triggered all your losses to coalesce into a hard knot of sadness, remember: grief is a normal, natural process that helps process raw emotions. No doubt, you will feel it physically as well as emotionally; but, this is just one of the ways the body-mind reboots your system. It happens on all levels: emotional, physical, and spiritual.
Imagine this scenario: you go to the doctor with a variety of symptoms fearing you have some dreaded disease. She tells you you are healthy as a horse, but you may want to adjust your diet, sleep schedule, work load, and make more time for leisure, nature, and rest. You leave the office feeling buoyant. Why? Because there was nothing wrong. You may have had symptoms and issues, but you are really OK. The same is true of grief. It can feel pretty awful and disrupt the flow of life, yet it’s benign. You’re fine.
How can you figure out if you are depressed or dealing with grief? Ask yourself what has recently happened in your life. Write a list of any changes you can think of, both internal and external, over the past 6-12 months. Look at your list. Did you move? Get divorced? End a relationship or become estranged from a family member? Change jobs? Face an illness? Have a sudden drop in income? If so, it is likely you are dealing with grief, not depression. Grief is the consummate shape-shifter and can mimic depression, anxiety, anger, worthlessness, and guilt. By taking the time to truly assess whether you are in grief or depression you can wisely choose a course of action tailored to what is really going on.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang