The Difference Between Depression and Grief

Difference Between Depression and Grief

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 the 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 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 arises.

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 off 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 lives 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 to master 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 life.

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 obtaining support.

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.

Boynton Beach Counseling Center
Gateway Counseling Center
1034 Gateway Blvd. #104
Boynton Beach, FL 33426
Phone: (561) 468-6464
Phone: (561) 678-0036

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