Grief and Depression

Excerpt from the book “Dealing with Depression” by Gordon Parker.

Grief differs considerably from depression. In depression, there is a drop in self-esteem and self-worth. In grief, there is either internal distress over the loss of another, or external distress over the loss of an ideal. When grief is at its worst, such distress is usually experienced as overwhelming separation anxiety.

Grief is generally experienced in stages. The first stage, which may last from hours to days, is a phase of “numbness” where the individual is in a state of disbelief or even denial. The second stage, which may last from weeks to several months, is when separation anxiety is at its most severe as waves of grief, sadness and tears are experienced. During this stage, sleep and appetite disturbances are common, as are social withdrawal, a sense of guilt or a wish to blame others. The lost individual may be “seen” or experienced in some way. The third stage, which may commence after weeks or months, is associated with a cessation of social withdrawal, a settling of distressful symptoms and the return of happy or positive memories of the dead individual. Only one-third of grieving people actually go on to develop distinct depression, but usually not until weeks or months after their loss.

(And later in the same chapter, the author writes:)

As noted earlier, only one-third of people experiencing grief will go on to develop a distinct depressive phase. Most will experience a range of alternating and evolving grief stages before some resolution occurs.

Grief can be suppressed, unresolved or prolonged. In such cases the grief can be labelled “pathological”. The commonest causes of unresolved grief are blocked anger or suppressed emotions, and the excessive us of benzodiazipines such as Valium, or other drugs that suppress grief and its processing. While some antidepressant drugs can reduce the intensity of grief, a range of proven counselling techniques is generally preferred to medication.


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