Is it Grief or is it Depression?

By Terri Stout

The holidays can increase stress and bring on feelings of grief and depression. What is the difference and when does it go beyond normal to where it affects someone’s everyday life and ability to feel joy?

Signs of Grief.

As we age, we experience many losses. Grieving over these losses is normal and healthy, even if the feelings of sadness last for a long time. Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn’t always easy, since they share many symptoms. However, there are ways to tell the difference. It is always best to speak with your physician for care.

Grief is a roller coaster involving a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even in the middle of the grieving process, there are moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant. While there is no set timetable for grieving, if it does not let up over time or extinguishes all signs of joy—laughing at a good joke, brightening in response to a hug, appreciating a beautiful sunset—it may be depression.

Signs of Depression.

Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities

Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”

Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

Appetite and/or unintended weight changes

Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts

Restlessness, irritability

Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Acting differently… changes in normal behavior

In 2017, depression reached the highest level ever measured. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans state that they have been professionally diagnosed with depression at some point.

Depression affects almost every age, and is not dependent on economic status. Fortunately, clinical depression is a treatable illness. More than 80 percent of people with depression can be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination. More than two million adults, age 65+, suffer from some form of depression. This population accounts for 20 percent of all suicide deaths, with white males being particularly vulnerable. Co-occurring illnesses such as personal losses and grief, as well as financial problems, are prevalent at this age.

Substances and Depression in Older Adults.

It can be tempting to use substances to deal with physical and emotional pain. However, substances can be addictive and can often make the situation worse. Physicians need to know all medications that are being used to ensure optimal outcomes with minimum side effects.

Helping someone with Depression.

If you know someone who has depression, first they should see a doctor or mental health professional. Psychotherapy combined with medication is very effective treatment.

You can help someone with depression by:

Offering support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.

Ensuring they have personal connections and can see a physician.

Talking and listening carefully.

Never ignoring comments about suicide, and reporting them to their therapist or doctor.

Inviting them for walks or outings, or to engage in indoor activities with you.

Reminding them that, with time and treatment, the depression will lift.

If you or someone you care about is having suicidal thoughts…tell someone who can help immediately.

Call your doctor.

Call 911 for emergency services.

Call Old Vineyard Behavioral Health Services 336-794-3550.

Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK
(1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

Terri Stout, LCSW, MHA, is the Director of Clinical Services, Old Vineyard Behavioral Health, Winston-Salem.


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