In my private practice as a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, I heard this question frequently, “Is it grief or something more?” Everyone grieves differently. Do you know the signs and symptoms to watch for when grief progresses into depression?
A middle-aged female patient asked, with tears streaming down her face, “Isn’t it normal to grieve after losing someone you love?”
As I began to answer, she quickly added, “And why can’t anyone seem to understand? They lost her too!”
She recounted the details of her loss, the pain clearly written across her face. She needed to share, and I took the time to listen.
As I listened to her questions and began to formulate a response, I was mentally transported back to my own experience several years prior. Almost nine months after losing my mother and best friend, I had to figure out how to manage our first Christmas without her.
If the truth be told, I wasn’t ready to assume the role of matriarch of the family, but somehow it was thrust upon me. By 10:00 on Christmas morning, I was done. I wanted every decoration taken down and put away. It was more than I could bear.
I wanted Christmas behind me. I wanted the pain to go away. I wanted others to understand.
Everyone grieves differently
In my profession, patients would come to my office with a variety of medical and mental health concerns: grief after losing a loved one, anxiety, depression, memory loss after concussions, stroke, or dementia, just to name a few. Sometimes it helps just to share and get an objective opinion. Sometimes we are a little too close to the situation to be able to assess our own situation clearly. That was the case here.
First, it’s important to understand that everyone grieves differently. Several people may grieve the loss of the same individual, yet the rate and depth and way they grieve will be unique to each of them. We can’t set limits or boundaries on how people grieve any more than we can have input regarding how the sun rises each morning. We know it will, but it’s different in its glory, majesty, and radiance every day.
Yet I do know that you can take comfort in knowing that when it seems others don’t understand, or they grieve differently than you do.
God understands and He longs to comfort you.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18)
And when you feel alone or feel like others don’t understand, you can call on God, and He will listen and answer your cries.
“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 17:6)
In His loving-kindness, God knew that it would hurt our hearts to lose those we love. Even Jesus wept after His friend Lazarus died. God also knew that we would need to grieve not only people but grieve the loss of dreams, hopes, and desires. Grief is a natural, normal, healthy way to process loss.
Signs and symptoms to watch for when grief passes into depression
When grief lasts an extended period of time, however, or begins to affect our health and functional activity, it can sometimes progress into depression.
Some signs and symptoms of depression may include:
- Feeling sad, blue, down, or numb
- Feeling irritable or agitated
- Concentration difficulty
- Feeling guilty
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling Helpless
- Feeling Hopeless
- Difficulty making decisions
Other symptoms include:
- Decreased energy or motivation
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Decreased social interaction with friends or family
- Crying more frequently than usual
- Thoughts of suicide
Sometimes the signs are more subtle such as:
- A change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less)
- A change in appetite (either eating more or eating less)
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Unremitting aches/pains
- Excessive use of substances
- Excessive work absences.
See medical attention
If you notice that more than three or four of these have been true for you for more than a couple of weeks, and it has been longer than six months since your loss, I would encourage you to see your general medical practitioner to first rule out a medical reason for these symptoms. If no medical reason can be found, then it would be appropriate to seek out a mental health practitioner to provide you with support and assistance.
Guard your heart and mind
Whether you’re going through grief after the loss of a loved one or walking through the valley of depression, I encourage you to guard your own heart and mind.
Times like that are open season for the enemy to come and encamp and wreak havoc during a, particularly vulnerable time.
Every day, we have between 30,000-70,000 thoughts. If we are not careful, we can begin to think things that are not helpful to our well-being.
Scripture is very clear that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Essentially, we have to examine our thoughts and make sure that they are consistent with Scripture and what God says about us. If they are not, we need to reject them and replace them with God’s truth.
Even during the painful times, the times of grief and loss, and times when we experience debilitating depression, we can take God at His word. He promises that He works ALL things together for our good. It can be hard to see, and hard to understand, but that is when faith and trust come into play.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)
Finally, extend yourself some grace, just like you would offer to others. You will get through this, with God’s help.
Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
This article is also shared at MareeDee.com.
For the first time ever, a Free 6-week Online Hope Prevails Bible Study
Readers have been asking me to lead an online version of the Hope Prevails Bible Study for a while now. God has spurred my heart to offer it in late January to help get through the winter months as we anticipate the joy of spring.
Depression is no laughing matter, but it can be easier to cope when we’re surrounded by the support of friends and mental health professionals.
I would love to have you join us, and perhaps even consider inviting a friend to join with you. Everything is better with a friend!
Join us for this 6-week Online Bible Study that begins on January 23, 2023 by registering at: Online Hope Prevails Bible Study