Grief and Depression – Are they the same?

After Kevin’s death, despite numerous people telling me to go on medication, that there was nothing wrong with going on medication, I made the decision to stay off of anti-depressants while grieving.  I was already taking an anxiety medication for the attacks that had started when Kevin became ill, as well as a sleeping pill.  I knew that grief had to be felt, that I had to take myself to those deep and dark lows that were required in grieving.

Nearly a year after his death, after I had gone back to school and hit the 1-year loss mark, I was having difficulty studying and staying on top of school.  I sought out my doctor and together we made the decision to start on a low dose of anti-depressants to help me focus.

This morning, when I read Caleb Wilde’s recent blog, Should We Medicate Grief? I was appalled and saddened that the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  from the American Psychiatric Association had decided to lump together grieving with depression.

I’m not disagreeing that grief feels depressing, but is it depression?  Isn’t it completely normal and sane for someone to not want to get out of bed, to put themselves in remote situations, to sob uncontrollably, to have suicidal tendencies, to feel at their lowest of low, because they lost someone they loved?

When chatting with a widow friend this evening we both agreed that we felt something is lost when a grieving person chooses to immediately medicate themselves.  That’s not to say that if you have depressive tendencies you shouldn’t be concerned and stay in close contact with a mental health professional, but if you’re just plain grieving, trying to suffocate that grief with medication can be destructive in the healing process.

I’m curious to know what your thoughts are.  Did you medicate immediately following the loss of a loved one?  Do you believe that grief should be lumped in with Psychiatrists’ diagnosis of depression?

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Comments 9

  1. You know I agree with you 100%. Grief should be managed the same way depression should be managed. First step – talking to someone you trust. Second step – get outside! Fourteenth step – work with your doctor to decide if medication is the proper aide. Grief is scary, I get why people want to lock us in padded cells, but we’ll still have the demons inside if we don’t learn to confront them. XOXO good on you for writing this! <3 Jess

  2. AS one who has suffered from chronic depression, I do not believe grief should be lumped in the diagnosis of depression. Brenda, I think you are correct. We need to feel our grief. Depression is also a chemical imbalance of serotonin. Grief is not chemical. I don’t think it needs to be treated chemically unless it is extreme grief or someone has a history of already diagnosed major depression. I take chronic antidepressants daily. I have experienced grief several times since starting antidepressants. Never once did I think I should have my medication increased based on that.

  3. I kind of wanted to feel everything I was feeling. My doctors wouldn’t give me any medication (mine wanted me to go to counseling) but she did give me something for anxiety. Because I started cutting myself about a month after losing my son, I took my anxiety medication as needed-usually when I was feeling like hacking into myself. It wasn’t a suicidal thing, by the way, I just wanted some physical sign of my internal feelings.

    I think that people are totally quick to judge ANY feelings associated with grief as something else. If someone was a total dick to me (pardon my language) and I said something back then I was “going through the anger stage.” If I saw something of my son’s and got sad or woke up one morning and couldn’t face the day then I was “going through the depression stage.” When I started keeping up with the latest research on SIDS I was “going through the bargaining stage” and was told that once I reached the “acceptance stage” I would no longer have the need to do that.

    I began hating those stages.

    I felt like all the feelings that came with my loss WERE normal and that I needed to experience them because they were a part of my relationship with him, just like my joy and happiness were. I didn’t want to dull anything. I wanted to feel what I felt.

  4. After I lost my husband, I was on Celexa. After a year, I decided to discontinue taking the medicine. I needed it the first year so I was capable of helping my two small children mourn the loss of their Daddy. I needed to NOT take it the second year so I COULD MOURN the loss of my husband.

    My doctor did not agree with my choice. But it was my choice. And looking back, it was the RIGHT decision for me.

    It has now been over four years, I still have moments in which the Grief Monster visits me, but the are fewer and farther apart. I do not take any medication. I am no longer actively mourning.

    And – as someone who comes from a family of members who suffer from depression – I can say that depression and grieving are NOT the same thing.

  5. I lost my husband when I was 26 and I was told the same thing from time to time, but I did not feel it was the correct treatment for the sickness of losing a husband….I wanted to go through the pain, the tears, the desperation if knowing whether I should live or not, because through that came and still continues to come the healing….one must feel that to make the journey, it takes several years and I took as long as I needed, and still do…..the pain never completely goes away, one always has a gaping hole in the heart, but over time…..with love, patience and all things good, a small ray of light will begin to shine again…..the hole will always be there, but the love and light will come through again… time, in time……

  6. Thank you for this piece. It seems that we are frightened to witness or experience any pain of any description any more. I admire you in being brave and allowing yourself to grieve and feel your grief. Of course, it is a fine balance that can easily tip, and we must be mindful when a true clinical depression raises it’s head, it needs medical attention. I agree with the previous post too, healing comes through traveling to the darkest places and emerging into the light again. I think we are all far more resilient than we know, and I believe we are not teaching our children the power of resilience, they need to see real pain and watch us emerge to know they can do it too.

    Depression and grief are not necessarily one and the same. Grief should not be taken over as another thing we should be “in control” of.

  7. I had gone through a couple bouts of depression before Brian died, and took some anti-depressants then. When he died, I didn’t even consider it because of the things you stated. Then, I needed some time off work a month or so later, and I did get a script for anti-depressants, but that was mostly to show that I was getting “medical treatment” to qualify me for FMLA and disability leave. I don’t remember how long or how regularly I actually took them, but it didn’t matter. The REASON it didn’t matter was because my “depression” wasn’t chemical in nature – it was simply grief. I do think, though, that if things are severely bad for a long time, that it can depress (no pun intended) the chemicals enough that you might need some medical intervention to get your body back to the place where you are physically able to feel better. I am with you though; I don’t think grief is a mental illness and I don’t agree that it is a form of depression.

    Just my non-medical-professional two cents’ worth…

  8. Brenda,

    I whole-heartedly agree with you. I really think we need to dive into our grief. We can’t get around it. We have to go through it.

    Depression may result from grief, but I don’t see how they’re the same thing. Am I sad that I lost my husband? Absolutely! Am I depressed about losing my husband? Absolutely! Do I need to take meds for it? No, I don’t think so. I’m not suicidal. I’m just sad. I still put one foot in front of the other every day and I still function as a productive member of society. Some days are just better than others. Even at the two-year mark.

    I know another widow who spent two years on anti-depressants. Then she figured out that she got the same benefits from exercise. We all have to get through our grief the best way we can. Doctors know the biology and psychology of grief and depression, but they may not know the reality of it unless they’ve lived it.

  9. I have been very adamant about not taking any medication for any ailment. I do take an aspirin occasionally but I see many people turn to medication immediately before they try natural things such as eating well and exercising. Like many, I have faced bouts of depression; however, I have refrained from medication because I am afraid it will give me a certain high, then wear off if I stop using it.

    When my partner died eight years ago, I went through the crying, the frustration, the depression like all the other readers, but I balanced my life through friends, family, and those things that are most important to our lives (e.g., listening to music). Yes, we can take medication but can we get by on our natural “highs”?

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