Coping with Depression After Losing a Loved One

by Kristal Borjas August 13, 2021 4 min read

The loss of a loved one can be devastating. Grief is a normal and natural response to a loss, but for some people, it can progress into depression. It’s important to understand the difference between grief and depression, and how to get through this difficult time.

Understanding the Difference Between Grief and Depression

Grief is a very personal process. Everyone goes through it differently and experiences the feelings of loss differently. In some cases, people experience symptoms that are very similar to depression, including:

  • Intense feelings of sadness
  • Isolation
  • Difficulty performing everyday tasks

However, there are some clear differences between depression and grief. One of the most important things is the duration of the symptoms.

  • Those who are grieving often experience their symptoms in waves – they come and go.
  • Those who are depressed feel depressed nearly all of the time.

If you’re grieving, you may not feel like attending parties or going out to dinner with friends, but you will accept support from your loved ones. You still want to be around your friends and family, but you may not be in the mood for celebration or laughter.

Depression often causes people to isolate themselves completely, and they may even shun other people. The symptoms may be so intense that they find it difficult to go to work and carry out everyday tasks.

The line between grief and depression is a fine one, and that’s why it can be difficult to determine whether it’s grief or something more.

Complicated Grief

In between grief and depression, there is complicated grief. Complicated grief causes long-lasting, intense feelings of loss and can be debilitating. Even after time passes, the loss is still incredibly painful, and it becomes difficult to resume your daily life. It becomes difficult or impossible to move through the stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

If a person is unable to move through the stages of grief more than a year after the loss, it may be complicated grief.

Complicated grief can progress into depression.


What are the Signs of Bereavement-Related Depression?

Earlier, we discussed some of the symptoms you may experience if you’re grieving or if your grief progresses into depression.

But it’s important to take a closer look at some of the signs and symptoms of bereavement-related depression. Sometimes, it can be difficult for us and our loved ones to see these signs or recognize them for what they are: depression.

It’s estimated that up to 28% of people who lose their spouses will experience major depression. The risk of depression reaches its peak around 6 months after the loss, but symptoms can last up to two years.


Extreme Introversion

Grief may rob us of our desire to socialize in big group settings, but depression can cause us to isolate ourselves completely. You may not have a desire to see anyone or talk to anyone, including close relatives and friends.

Isolation is not a normal part of the grieving process and is a sign of depression.

Mood Disorders

Depression can cause an otherwise happy person to become irritable and angry. They may push people away (part of the self-isolation process) because they may feel that happiness is something that will always be out of reach for them.

Unfortunately, mood changes often go unrecognized by friends and family. They write it off as grief and being cranky or moody because of the loss.

Sleep Disorders

The loss of a loved one can make it difficult to sleep at night, but depression can make sleep ever elusive.

If your loved one isn’t sleeping well, this could be a sign of depression.


Caring for Yourself

Oftentimes, the loss of a loved one can make it difficult for us to care for ourselves. However, self-care and self-compassion can go a long way in making you feel better. In many ways, caring for yourself is a big part of the healing process.

Self-care can include:

  • Making sure that you get enough sleep – 7 to 8 hours is ideal.
  • Exercising regularly. Taking walks or an exercise class can help lift your mood.
  • Joining a support group to share your feelings with others who are in similar situations.
  • Reaching out to and spending time with friends and family for support.

Some people find that learning a new skill or hobby can help. It gives you something to look forward to and can be fulfilling.

Doing your best to get back to a normal routine can make a big difference. Returning to normal doesn’t mean that you forget about your loved one. It simply means that you are continuing to live your life with their memory close to your heart.


Seeking Support

When a loss leads to depression, you have a desire to withdraw from your loved ones and retreat into solitude. However, support from friends and family is crucial during this time. They can play a big role in helping you heal from the loss.

Lean on your friends and family for support. Spend time together and accept help when it is offered. If you don’t feel that you have someone you can connect with, join a support group or reach out to a therapist.

Even if it feels uncomfortable or awkward, it’s important to express your emotions. This alone can bring a sense of release and comfort.


Getting Help

Losing a loved one is never easy. Their loss leaves a hole that you may feel is difficult or impossible to fill. Sometimes, we need help to get through such a devastating loss.

Reach out for help or call your doctor if you’re:

  • Having trouble performing everyday tasks.
  • Feeling like you have no purpose.
  • Feeling guilt or blame about your loved one’s death.
  • Feeling that your life isn’t worth living.

Remember that you are not alone, and there ishelp out there. There are several treatments that can help with bereavement-related depression, including therapy and medication.

Many people experience depression after a loss, but seeking support from loved ones can go a long way in helping you feel better. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, reach out for help.

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