When you lose someone you love, it can feel like the sadness and pain is never ending, and you might find yourself questioning if you're slipping into depression. Although they can feel similar, there are a number of differences between grief and depression. Both can be painful, frightening, and debilitating, but just because you are experiencing grief doesn't mean you are necessarily suffering from depression.
"Grief and depression can look and feel similar, but they are uniquely different experiences," Zaneta M. Gileno, LMSW, CT tells Bustle. "Grief is a wound of the heart and price we pay for having been impacted by another’s life. There is no timetable for grief, no list of steps we can accomplish to be done with the experience once and for all. Depression, in a clinical sense, has criterion and timetables attached that aid in diagnosis and treatment. Although symptoms such as sadness, lethargy, lack of appetite, excessive appetite, and withdrawal from full activity of life can be present in one who is grieving and those who are depressed, they are not one in the same."
Knowing exactly what you or a loved one is going through can help you find the most appropriate ways to feel better. Here are seven unexpected differences between grieving and depression.
1. Grief Spurs Growth
Both grief and depression can cause you to look at life in a different way, but grief tends to lead more quickly and directly to growth than depression. "Grief has a way of shaking us to the core and can cause us to ask ourselves those existential questions about the meaning of life and our place in the universe,"says Gileno. "Depression can spark those questions as well, but they are generally alienating in nature." Although this growth won't come right away, grief often has a way of helping us learn different aspects of our shared human experience that may be harder to see when undergoing depression.
2. Grief Comes In Waves
Unlike depression, grief comes in waves, with thoughts and reminders of the lost individual triggering bouts of intense emotion. "Over time, these 'grief bursts' will decrease in duration and will occur less frequently," Fredda Wasserman, MA, MPH, LMFT, CT of OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center, tells Bustle. "In major depression, the depressed mood is more persistent and pervasive and not limited to specific thoughts or remembrances." If you are finding that you are struggling with depressive thoughts that do not seem to go away, speaking with a therapist or loved one can help you find ways to cope with these difficult emotions.
3. People Grieving Respond Well To Family & Friends
The comfort of family and friends might be received differently depending on if the person is grieving or has depression. "When grieving, people often respond positively to the comfort and support of friends and family," Randye Golden-Grant, LCSW, a bereavement counselor affiliated with Sharp HospiceCare tells Bustle." "In a major depression, people often do not accept support and may tend to isolate themselves from others."
4. Self-Care Can Have An Immediate Effect On Grief
"The darkest hours of grief can be made brighter by practicing self-care," says Gileno. "If we are depressed, the light may come for a moment, but quickly passes and is something we can’t seem to shake." Activities like reading a good book, chatting with a trusted peer, or attending a workshop can help integrate loss into your life and gain coping skills, but with depression, they rarely have the same lasting effect. But that's to say that self-care can't help with depression — by consulting with a therapist, or someone you trust, you can explore self-care techniques that can help lift your mood, even in the smallest of ways.
5. Grief Doesn't Often Require Medical Treatment
Normative grief is not something to be treated, but rather an experience to be examined, empowered, and understood. "Depression can meet criteria for medical treatment and intervention," says Gileno. "Although grief can trigger the need for medical intervention, it can often be made easier through gaining coping skills, mourning our loss, remembering the love, and sharing that journey with a friend." If you believe you are struggling with depression, and feel that you may need the assistance of medication, there is nothing to be ashamed of. A psychiatrist can help prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms you may be experiencing day to day.
6. Grief Involves The Past & Depression Involves The Future
When people are grieving, they desire to return to the way things were. "We want our deceased loved one back, we wish we could return to the home we lived in ... etc.," Rebecca Doppelt, M.A., MFT Associate tells Bustle. "This need for rebound to a prior experience is unique to grief. Depression does not usually carry a yearning for something in our past. Instead, it focuses on our current state of being." In depression, people tend to crave change for feeling better and hope for a new set of experiences.
7. People With Depression Tend To Blame Themselves
"In grief, feelings of guilt and regret are natural and tend to relate directly to specific incidents in the relationship with or care of their loved one," says Golden-Grant. "In depression, there may be a deeper sense of self blame that extends more broadly in life."
Whether you're experiencing grief or depression, both can be painful and hard to deal with. Regardless of which you're experiencing, reaching out to a therapist, counselor, or trusted love one can help you get through it, and come out on the other side.