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Depression and Complicated Grief

white man in suit crying
Depression and grief share many symptoms but are different as well. Photo by Tom Pumford

Depression shares many symptoms in common with grief and complicated grief. However, depression is a psychiatric illness in which there are more global negative emotions and thinking than just about the loss. Additionally, a person with clinical depression has ported coping skills that make grieving more difficult and may be more helpless and hopeless them a person who is just having grief from a loss.

Symptoms in Common with Complicated Grief and Depression

Both depression and grief involve intense sadness, sleep and appetite problems, low energy, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and lack of interest or pleasure in things that used to bring pleasure.

With complicated grief, a person can either have pre-existing depression or develop it in the course of grieving for a long time. It can be hard to distinguish one from the other, sometimes.

Some distinctions between grief and depression

In both grief and depression, people often withdraw from others. However, people with complicated grief might also feel anxious being alone at times. Usually, depressed people are comfortable spending long periods of time by themselves because they fear bringing others down.

Depressed people also have difficulty having even brief periods of enjoyment. People who are grieving can sometimes laugh or have enjoyment despite their being upset over the loss.

Sometimes, people experiencing complicated grief can become clinically depressed. If the physical symptoms of depression like fatigue, sleep disturbance, and difficulty making decisions last for two weeks or several months, and if the person's functioning overall is negatively impacted, that might start to become depression.

Depression also is characterized by global, persistent negative thinking about everything, including oneself. Complicated grief tends to center the negative thinking around the loss or the deceased.

Suicidal Ideation

Grievers may express a willingness to die, but it's usually to be reunited with their deceased loved one. Alternatively, they might not see a point to living if their loved one is no longer alive. With complicated grief, the suicidal ideation is usually specific to loss.

Depression, however, can lead to an overall feeling that life is not willing to live. Life is not interesting, enjoyable or bearable. The pain of living, or of feeling chronically empty and uninspired, is something that they want to escape.

As you see, there is much overlap between depression and grief, but complicated grief is more about difficulty resolving the grief of a loss. Depression, on the other hand, is a general sense of meaninglessness and is not usually tied to a specific upsetting event.

If you think that you suffer from complicated grief or depression, or possibly both, I would be happy to help you sort it out and start to heal from what's bothering you. Please call 661-233-6771 today.

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