Is It Depression or Grief?
Is It Depression or Grief?
By Kathryn Berlá, Ed.D.
Dear Dr. Berlá,
How do I know if I am experiencing normal grief rather than depression? — A.N., Louisville
Grief is your emotional reaction to a significant loss. The words sorrow and heartache are often used to describe feelings of grief. Whether you lose a beloved person, animal, place, or object, or a valued way of life (such as your job, marriage, or good health), some level of grief will naturally follow. Grieving after a loved one''s death is also known as bereavement.
Anticipatory grief is grief that strikes in advance of an impending loss. You may feel anticipatory grief for a loved one who is sick and dying. Similarly, we often feel the pain of losses brought on by an upcoming move or divorce. This anticipatory grief helps us prepare for such losses. Grief is expressed physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Grieving is the process of emotional and life adjustment you go through after a loss and is a personal experience. Depending on who you are and the nature of your loss, your process of grieving will be different from another person''s experience. There is no "normal and expected" period of time for grieving. Some people adjust to a new life within several weeks or months. Others take a year or more, particularly when their daily life has been radically changed or their loss was traumatic and unexpected. How one expresses grief is influenced in part by the cultural, religious, and social rules of the community.
As a society, we end to underestimate the length of the grieving process, which is unfortunate. It seems there is cultural pressure to “get over it.” A recent poll showed that most Americans think it should only take a couple of weeks to get over the death of a loved one. The reality is that while many aspects of daily life can return to normal in a short amount of time, the real process of grieving is complicated and long.
A wide range of feelings and symptoms are common during grieving. While feeling shock, numbness, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, or fear, one may also find moments of relief, peace, or happiness. While grieving is not simply sadness, “the blues,” or depression, one may become depressed or overly anxious during the grieving process. Intense grief can bring on unusual experiences. After a death, one may have vivid dreams about the loved one, develop his or her behaviors or mannerisms, or see or hear the loved one
Although it may be possible to postpone grieving, it is not possible to avoid grieving altogether. If life circumstances make it difficult for one to stop, feel, and live through the grieving process, these individuals can expect grief to eventually erupt sometime in the future. In the meantime, unresolved grief can affect one''s quality of life and relationships with others.
If an individual experiences any of the above symptoms two months after the loss, they should be speaking with a medical or mental health professional. Adequate treatment can help speed recovery.
Kathryn Berlá, Ed.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Louisville . She may be reached at 502-412-2226.
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