Are You Grieving or Depressed?

October 25, 2013 § 1 Comment

By Kent Boynton, Ph.D., LICSW

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated one in 10 American adults report being depressed. That number is even higher for frail elders, people with chronic illness and those with physical and mental disabilities.

While October has become synonymous with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it also is Depression Awareness Month. This month marks an opportune time to discuss the signs and symptoms of a disease that many suffer alone  and to bring attention to why behavioral health is key to overall health.

Depression can have a negative effect on all aspects of life. It can adversely affect physical health and chronic conditions like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Depression can also result in increased work absenteeism and decreased productivity.

Recognizing when you are depressed is important. But how does one recognize these symptoms and separate them from other similar emotional distress, such as grief?

Grief and depression can feel the same but they are actually different.  If we are grieving the death of a loved one, we may feel sad and tearful, have trouble sleeping, avoid people, and lose our appetite. If we are depressed we may have the same experiences. People often label themselves as “depressed” when they are actually grieving. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, your feelings of grief can come and go. You may feel more sadness when an event or situation reminds you of the loved one: his birthday, her photograph, a friend sharing a story about the person, or a favorite place you both enjoyed.  You can have pleasant memories mixed with pain of loss. Usually after a period of intense grieving, you can resume many of your normal activities.

Depression is a more permanent and pervasive feeling. Your feelings may include sadness but you may feel hopeless and helpless. You may think that your “gloom and doom” will go on forever. In your world, the glass is usually half empty not half full. Activities that might console or distract the grieving person may not help if you are depressed. In serious forms, depression can interfere with your normal activities. Where grief may naturally diminish, untreated depression can hang on for a long time.

The good news is that whether you are suffering from grief or depression, there are resources and opportunities for help and support.

These notes on distinguishing grief and depression are adapted from an article, “The Two Worlds of Grief and Depression”, by Dr. Ronald Pies. Here is a link to the article.


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§ One Response to Are You Grieving or Depressed?

  • Ronald Pies MD says:

    I very much appreciate the coverage of this important issue–thanks very much, Dr. Boynton!–Ronald Pies, MD (Tufts USM)

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