Understanding the Depression Stage of Grief
The most critical stage of grief is depression and can easily take hold of you if you are not aware of the signs and symptoms. Because you are dealing with the emotional and perhaps physical impacts of grief, it can be challenging to recognize if you are going through grief emotions, which lead to healing, or you are prone to falling into the depths of depression.
There are many similarities between grief and depression, where they may differ is that grief tends to decrease over time and occurs in waves that are triggered by thoughts, special anniversaries or holidays, etc. where depression tends to be more persistent and pervasive. In either case, when in doubt you should seek professional help. I cannot stress the importance of awareness and accepting support so you can get an appropriate diagnosis if needed.
Most of us associate depression with grief since it can represent the emptiness we feel when we realize the impact of our loss. Though most of us may feel some of the symptoms of depression and can work through them as part of the healing process, in some cases it can become a real problem. In this stage, you might isolate, feel numb, live in a dazed and confused state, wanting to stay in bed or not wanting to leave the house. The world may appear to be overwhelming, and it can feel like it is difficult for you to face life. You often feel hopeless and that you cannot withstand the future. But you may experience these feelings during other stages, which is why understanding the signs of depression is so important.
During the fourth stage, depression, you begin to recognize the reality of your loss, whereas up to this point, sadness is the key emotion you feel, but you were also still able to find the energy to get through the days, go to work and process through denial, anger, and bargaining. If you go through the stage of depression you may find you cannot deal with the day to day routines and you may even begin to experience thoughts of suicide or not to want to live; this is why it is so critical to be aware and get help if necessary. Thought grief does get easier, the thoughts of “What’s the point of going on anymore” are sure signs of depression, and when you need help.
Signs of Depression:
Sometimes, depression develops, along with the usual feelings associated with grief. Normal sadness as part of the grieving process may subside after several months or in some cases years, but falling into a state of depression is a medical disorder that is a response to a significant loss. In this stage, we begin to understand and feel the extent of the loss, many symptoms include:
- A decline in your ability to experience pleasure or becoming increasingly sad, hopeless or helpless
- Exhibit intrusive thoughts or unable to focus or concentrate
- Sleeping too much or not enough or often wakes up and are unable to go back to sleep
- An increase or decrease in appetite
- Ongoing and misplaced guilt because your loved one has suffered or died
- Being hyper-alert or excessively tiredIncreased irritability or outburst of anger
- Recurring feelings of despair and/or hopelessnessLack of motivation and control
- Feelings of isolation and not wanting to get out of bed or surround yourself with others
- Intense and ongoing sadness and crying spells
While none of the above signs are all-inclusive or indicate something is seriously wrong they are indications that you may need professional help. A sure sign of depression and when you must seek professional help is thoughts of suicide or not wanting to live. These are feelings you do not want to ignore or suspect you “may” get over; instead, they are when you need the appropriate professional support to manage through and overcome depression. If your depression impacts your ability to cope with or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts—consult with your doctor or a mental health professional immediately or call 911 or a Suicide hotline.
Tips for Dealing with Depression as part of the Grieving process:
Do not try to suppress your grief. As part of healing, you need to recognize and acknowledge the pain you are feeling. The more you contain your feelings, the more prone you are to finding ways to avoid them, which can lead to anxiety, substance abuse, and health issues, and even long term depression.
Talk to others. Find trusted support in family, friends, or church. Look for support groups (bereavement, grief coaches or counselors). Allowing yourself to share your emotions with those who care and will listen goes a long way to releasing pent up feelings.
Be creative. A great way to express feelings is to be creative; journaling is a way to express your thoughts, create a scrapbook that includes photos of your loved one, a playlist of favorite songs, or volunteer for a cause in that was important for your loved one. For example, I hold an annual blood drive in memory of my loved one, who had been a recipient of blood. These things can change your outlook to one of gratitude that helps to ease the feelings of loss.
Exercise each day. Exercise releases endorphins, which not only relieve stress but gives you energy and a sense of happiness and accomplishment. A little exercise each day is one way to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with depression.
Plan ahead. There are specific times that can be a trigger for grief emotions to arise unexpectedly. For example, Holidays, birthdays, or the anniversary of your loss. Being prepared for these in advance can help you get through these difficult times. Ask for support from others, come up with strategies for deal with them (for example it is okay not to attend a function if it will cause you painful memories) and create new traditions or celebrate the good memories or write a tribute in memory of your loved one can help you cope through and honor your loved one in a positive way.
Avoid negative things to numb your pain. Refrain from abusing alcohol or other harmful elements, this only prolongs and temporarily avoids the pain, but it also will cause additional problems that will lead you down a path of unnecessary pain
See your doctor. Get a check-up; this is time for you to take care of your health to be able to process through your grief. Your doctor can also refer you to a Mental Health Specialist if necessary. You may also consider seeing a Grief Coach to work through your emotions and help you work through the various stages of grief.
The grieving process is traumatic, and if depression does occur it is okay and important to seek the right support you need to process through it which is essential to your wellbeing and ability to heal and restore joy to your life.