One of the things I’ve noticed over the years in our
medication-saturated society is the tendency to label any form of sadness as
depression. People then feel like they need an antidepressant or some other
intervention to take their sadness away.
A large percentage of the sadness people experience is often
related to grief and loss. If we numb these feelings, it only prolongs our
grief. So much of the mental health and medical community is focused on symptom
suppression rather than symptom resolution.
Furthermore, feelings such as grief have tremendous value.
If we keep blocking or numbing them, we never experience the benefit they are
designed to bring us. Throughout our life, we will encounter numerous losses on
a variety of levels. In order to live a full life, we need to develop the
ability to grieve well.
Whenever we block our emotions, there is a price to be paid.
Emotional defenses are not bad in and of themselves and are sometimes
necessary. However, they are situation specific. When we use them chronically,
they create problems in our present life.
Emotions in essence are information and energy. They give us
a rapid feedback about what is happening around us and provide the internal
resource to respond to that awareness. Grief informs us of a loss on some
level. The more impactful the loss, the more intense the feeling of grief that
Grief orients us to what is most valuable in our lives. Life
has an uncanny ability to distract us. Things such as pursuing status, success,
or material possessions can sidetrack us from what matters most, such as our
closest relationships. Perhaps, you’ve had the experience of being informed
someone you cared about just died.
In that moment, so many of the things you were devoting your attention to become meaninglessness. You wish you had spent more time with that person or were less selfish and more patient or forgiving. This is the positive benefit of grief.
We can know something in theory, but when we FEEL it, it
changes our course. This is what emotions were designed to do. The word emotion
is derived from a Latin word that means, to move. Grief also helps us release
from the past and move forward into the present and the future.
Several of my clients have gone through divorces this past
year. The first holidays without their spouse, or intact family, were very
difficult for them. I encouraged them to make space for their grief and feel it
through. It is temporary. Grieving these losses will allow them to become more open
to what they can experience in the future.
If they push these feelings away, next holiday season they
will not be able to fully enjoy what they could have due to still struggling
with feelings of grief. Moreover, this will keep them stuck in the past pining
away for what once was.
One of the ironies with blocking your grief is it will lead
to more loss. Let’s say you were abandoned at one point in your life. This was
extremely painful, and you were overwhelmed by grief. As a result, you decided
you would never again let anyone in emotionally to protect yourself from
experiencing such a painful loss. The result is the ongoing loss of what you
could have if you did not have to engage in such self-protection.
Now there is a point at which grief can override your
ability to regulate it, which can lead to the development of depressive
symptoms. This is where you need to obtain support to help you stabilize and
work through the remainder of your grief. However, being sad is not a synonym
for depression. We need to stop medicating every sad feeling that arises.
If we do, we cut ourselves of from the value grief offers.
Perhaps, no emotion is more important to living a full and meaningful life than
grief. It makes us attend to what, and who, is most important to us, which
allows us to structure our life in a way that is most fulfilling. As mentioned
earlier, it also keeps us moving forward and open to what life gives us, rather
than closing off to prevent pain.
My purpose in writing this article is to help you
differentiate grief from depression so you can embrace the resource grief is.
Sadness is not pathological. You do not need medication because you’re sad.
What you need is help mastering this emotion. If I lose someone important to
me, I want to feel sad about it. It is a way to honor their significance in my
If you’re struggling to determine if you’re grieving or
depressed, assess your level of day-to-day functioning. If your loss has just
occurred, you may be challenged to carry out your typical responsibilities.
This is normal. With grief, you should be able to start to return to work or
normal activities within a week or two. If you cannot, I would suggest
When the loss is significant, such as a spouse, child, or
close friend, the grief can go on for an extended time period, years in most
cases. However, it should progress and diminish as time proceeds. In these
instances, I would encourage you to reach out for all the assistance you can receive.
Remember, grief has a vital role to play in your life. It is not depression. Allow yourself to feel it. It will help you construct your life in the most meaningful way possible. If you still are uncertain whether you’re grieving or depressed, contact us so we can help you get the clarity and support you need to grieve effectively.