Common Expressions and Experiences of Grief: Depression

Depression is most associated with persistent feelings of sadness, but there are actually several symptoms that may indicate we are struggling with depression:

  • Sadness, becoming easily tearful, or feelings of emptiness and hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in things that used to be personally enjoyable
  • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Low physical energy
  • Changes in appetite, such as not eating enough or eating more than normal
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Slow speech and slow physical movement that are out of the ordinary
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and self-blame
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts of wanting to die or even acting out a plan to end your life
  • Physical aches and pains that are not explainable by any medical condition

Having some, most, or even all of the depressive symptoms above is a very common response to loss, and just another way that our brains and bodies attempt to work through our grief. Although our depressive symptoms can be the result of many different factors in our lives (ex. genetics, difficult life transitions, loss, constant stress, trauma), our depression is almost always a way that our brains and bodies tell us it’s time to slow down, rest, and to ask for support and help.

When thinking about grief-related depression, we can understand this depression as the time when we deeply and clearly feel the sadness of our loss. Depression is when the reality of our loss sinks in and leaves us feeling like this may be too much to handle. Sometimes, we feel depressed and don’t even relate those feelings to our grief. In these instances, our depression may feel frightening and confusing to us, but we can practice reminding ourselves that it makes sense to experience depression after a loss.
In addition to depression bringing the pain of our loss to the forefront of our minds, depression is also a very clear way that our brains and bodies encourage us to take care of ourselves. Losing someone or something that is close to us shatters our world. We often spend time trying to run away, stay busy, or ignore this pain, but depression brings us back to earth, slows us down, and reminds us that we deserve to sleep, to slow down, to take breaks, and to ask that others help us because we can’t emotionally manage doing it all alone.

Depression is often a frightening and incredibly uncomfortable experience for people. When we are depressed, we may wonder if we will ever feel happy again, or wonder if we ever want to feel happy again. We may feel like there is no point in getting out of bed in the morning, or in engaging with friends and family. We may feel like going to work or taking care of our responsibilities takes more energy than we could possibly muster. These feelings and thoughts are not weakness, they are not laziness, they are not selfishness, they are simply what our brains and bodies know how to do to make sure we are taking the rest that we so desperately need.

There are several ways that you can take care of yourself during times of depression. If possible, ask your boss if you can take time off of work. Ask friends and family member to help you with grocery shopping, cooking meals, and other chores. Although there may be nothing that sounds enjoyable, try to do the things that you know are necessary for your well-being (eating at least one meal a day, getting out into sunshine, showering and brushing teeth, staying hydrated, moving body gently through a short walk or stretching, etc.). Take note of any moments of feeling less depressed, even if those moments are incredibly brief. And most importantly, be patient and kind to yourself. Even if there are days you can’t get out of bed, recognize that it takes time and a lot of energy to process our grief.

One final note on grief-related depression is this: if you find that your depression is preventing you from being able to function on a daily basis (ex. you skip work or even quit/lose your job, you aren’t capable of taking care of your children if you have kids, you are heavily drinking or using other substances to numb your depression), or if you have a real plan and intent to harm yourself or end your life, those are indications that you should seek professional help in working through your grief. Depression after loss is normal, and we deserve to ask for help if it truly feels like too much to handle on our own.

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