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The difference between grieving and depression

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Both grieving and depression have similar traits, but they are not the same; depression is more than sadness and there are stages identified in grieving. Grieving doesn’t have a timeline and is a normal part of loss; depression can feel like a great sense of loss, but for some people, life can be as good as can be, yet a chemical imbalance or their genetic makeup makes them prone to depression.

Depression and mourning can last for years and some of the treatments for finding relief are similar. E.g. counselling. It is important for clinicians to not mistake grieving for major depressive disorder (clinical depression).

The stages of grief are different than the stages of depression though people with depression may mourn the loss of their health and wellbeing while adjusting to the life altering symptoms that depression causes.

When a person is grieving they may describe themselves as being depressed and people who are depressed may feel as though they are mourning depending on the cause of depression. Situational depression, also known as an adjustment disorder, lacks some of the symptoms of clinical depression such as sleep disturbances and suicidal ideation. Major life changes such as divorce, living through a natural disaster and marriage causes short term situational depression that generally lasts no longer than six months.

The term adjustment disorder was renamed stress response syndrome in 2013 by mental health professionals. Grieving is not an illness and shouldn’t be treated as such.

The stages of grieving

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Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book called “On death and dying”, and in it she proposes that there are 5 stages of grief in the mourning process. While some may disagree, and even the Dr. regretted writing the stages of grief the way she did, her model is generally accepted as being universally true for anyone in mourning. The problem is that these stages can be experienced in any order and each stage may reoccur at any point in time; some people have interpreted the stages of grief as permanently fixed in a specific order and within a specified time frame. This is not so.

  • Denial- not facing the truth of the situation
  • Anger- at the loss and finding where blame exists
  • Depression-person may become isolated and mourning their mortality
  • Bargaining-generally a promise of being a better person in response for longevity or return of a lost relationship
  • Acceptance-an outcome is embraced and accepted as true and emotions remain stable

Criticisms point to the lack of empirical research and evidence and the fact that the cycle is created for one type of culture; it may not be universally true. Others point to seven stages of grief an extended version of the Dr. Kubler-Ross model.

Depression has different symptoms than grief

Depression sufferers experience many physical symptoms that people who are grieving don’t. There are a few types of depression and the symptoms vary in intensity and frequency. Medications and other therapies may take trial and error before finding one that is right for relieving the debilitating symptoms of depression. Talk therapy is helpful for both grieving and depression. Medical intervention isn’t needed for mourning but can change someone’s life who is experiencing an episode of depression.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of motivation and interest in normal activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Psychomotor retardation (slower than normal body movements)

By seeing a doctor or licensed therapist a person experiencing depressive symptoms can receive a proper diagnosis for commencing treatment that includes self-care measures that don’t require medical intervention. It is important to determine whether it is depression or grieving that a person is experiencing in order to receive the kind of help needed to aid in healing.

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