Is it grief? Is it depression?

When we lose a loved one to death we may experience many feelings, the pendulum of emotions may swing from one extreme to the other. The first few weeks as shock hits, we find it difficult to accept the death of our loved one, our emotions are all over the place.

For example:

  • Numbness
  • Sadness/sorrow
  • Yearning
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Disorientated
  • Disorganised
  • Loneliness
  • Difficulty sleeping/concentrating
  • Exhaustion/fatigue
  • Upset digestion
  • Anxieties
  • Withdrawing 

An array of mixed feelings, sensations impact for weeks, months or even years as we reorganise, rebuild, adjust to life without our precious loved one. 

You may also experience:

  • Thinking you hear, see, feel or smell your loved one.
  • Forgetting/vivid dreams/flashbacks.
  • Can’t picture them or remember the sound of their voice.
  • Worrying you may forget them.
  • You may catch yourself using their mannerisms or behaviour.

All the above effects and more can be thought as part of a normal grieving process, the grieving process is a slow adaptation to life without our loved one. Within the journey of acceptance, we can expect to experience emotions which flow, come, go, strike out of the blue like a tsunami, a volcanic eruption until the waves calm once again; resting until the cycle of grief begins again until full acceptance, reorientation and a meaningful sense of self is achieved. As you progress through your grief and adapt to living in a different way to how it was before your loved one died the waves of grief can be turbulent.  

As you become more accepting significant days/times e.g. family holidays, Christmas, birthdays or anniversary of the death; your feelings may become intense again, eventually you will have learnt to tolerate and manage the intensity and you return to your point of balance more readily.  

When does grief become depression? 

Sometimes grief interacts with difficulties we had before our loved one died and/or if low mood or feeling blue becomes more than reactional and the 'sorrow' of your grief become too intense to manage or you feel hollow and empty for two weeks without moving, you become stuck, then you may be experiencing what is known as clinical depression.

If you experience any of the following:

  • Low/flat self-esteem.
  • Low self-confidence.
  • Negative/critical self talk.
  • You feel empty.
  • Your daily functioning is impaired.
  • You can't be bothered to care for self.
  • Sadness which doesn't move.
  • Feelings of hopelessness/powerlessness.
  • Feeling tearful a lot of your day.
  • Irritable/intolerant of others.
  • Anger/rage.
  • Loss of libido.
  • Loss of appetite you eat little or nothing/or overeat.
  • Difficulty in making decisions.
  • Disturbed sleep, constantly sleeping, not sleeping.
  • Suicidal thoughts, feelings or actions.

Grief can be thought of as a flowing, moving, stop-start emotional process, altering and changing over time, grief has motivation and a direction. Depression, on the other hand, is motionless with no direction or motivation. 

If you are concerned you might be suffering the effects of depression or your grief has become too difficult to handle seek support from your GP and an experienced counsellor.

If in doubt get checked out!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN4
Written by Susan Stubbings, CPCAB Coun.Adv Dip+Supervision Adv L6 Cert. MBACP (Accred)
Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN4

Known as Sue, I work as a BACP registered counselling therapist in and around Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Experienced practitioner advocating for self-awareness, emotional mastery, connection and personal peace.

Passionate about empowering people to heal, build resiliency and maintain healthy emotional, psychological and spiritual inner worlds.

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