Myra thought she would feel better in time, but six months after her husband died, she sees no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s absolutely everything she can do to get out of bed in the morning, shower, dress, and go to work. Some days she can’t even do that.
When Myra comes home at night, she picks up the mail and tosses it on her desk without opening it. Sometimes she listens to her phone messages, and sometimes she doesn’t. Friends don’t call much anymore; Myra always tells them she’s busy, and she has refused countless social invitations. She doesn’t work in the garden, go to church on Sunday, or do any of the things that once gave her pleasure.
Myra doesn’t feel like eating, so she opens a bottle of wine and pours herself a glass. Maybe she’ll make a sandwich later – or maybe not. Maybe she’ll just finish the bottle of wine. She hasn’t been sleeping well lately, and maybe a couple of extra glasses will help…
Distinguishing Grief from Depression
It’s impossible to measure grief. No two people grieve in exactly the same way, and the same person will grieve differently with each loss. Some people recover quickly, and some people never “get over” their grief. At some point, though, Myra began drowning in grief. She began to have trouble managing even the most basic daily tasks, and she found herself isolating more and more. Friends became concerned that her grief was turning to depression, but how could they know for certain, and what could they do about it?
Grief is a normal reaction to the death of a loved one, and each individual must find his or her own path through grief. Depression, on the other hand, is a serious illness marked by troubling symptoms. While grief can continue for months, the acute pain of grief should subside over time. If it doesn’t, grief may have turned into depression.
Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose depression, but there are signs that indicate a medical evaluation may be in order.
A person who is grieving may experience any of the following physical and emotional symptoms:
- A sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
- Inability to sleep, middle-of-the night or early morning waking, or sleeping too much.
- Lack of appetite, weight loss, unusual hunger, or weight gain.
- Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, including sex.
- Irritability or restlessness.
- Mental dullness – difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
- Fatigue or lack of energy.
- Frequent thoughts of death.
- Unwarranted feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness.
Early in the grief process, the bereaved individual may feel hopeless and have trouble imagining a future without his deceased loved one, but in time he will recognize that grief comes in waves. The “bad” days will be balanced with “good” days in which the future looks brighter and he is able to take pleasure in the things he used to enjoy doing.
The signs of depression are similar to those of grief. The difference is in intensity and duration – in depression, It may seem that the cloud of gloom will never lift, and feelings of hopelessness may lead to thoughts of suicide.
When symptoms of depression occur almost daily for at least 2 weeks, a call to the doctor Is in order. While good support systems can help one overcome grief without medication, therapy and medications are often necessary to treat depression.
How You Can Help
Watching someone you love suffer is one of the hardest things in life. You may be able to help your grieving friend by encouraging her to:
- Accept and express her feelings.
- Confide in someone – a friend, a pastor, or counselor – about her loss and how it is affecting her.
- Find bereavement support groups. Sharing with others who have had similar experiences is tremendously healing.
- Call the doctor if symptoms persist.
Have you experienced grief and depression, or do you know someone who has? What are your thoughts on recognizing that grief has turned to depression? What worked for you (or your loved one)?