The Difference between Clinical Depression and Grief

Tess Thompson

Psychologists agree that stressful events like a major loss, death and emotional trauma can trigger clinical depression in people predisposed to emotional distress. At the same time, depression must be differentiated from grief, which is a normal mourning process caused by a stressful event, such as death of a close relative or friend.

Sadness and sorrow are normal reactions to loss and are integral to the grief process. A passing phase of general depression may also be associated with loss, bereavement or emotional trauma. Grief by itself is not considered a disorder, but unresolved grief can lead to clinical depression. To qualify as clinical depression, symptoms relating to it must have a duration for at least two months.

The relationship between grief and depression is intricate, making it difficult to differentiate between the two. There are certain common elements and symptoms that are associated with both. Both manifest symptoms like sadness, lack of sleep, appetite loss and weight loss.

There is almost always an event that triggers grief. A person may be normal in most situations, but any event that triggers off memories of the deceased or the loss that has occurred recently may activate depressive feelings. The difference lies in pervasiveness. Clinical depression is more permeative.

There are different types of clinical depression. These are major depressive disorder, bipolar disease and atypical depression. Atypical depression may sometimes be confused with the grieving process, as it is characterized by mood reactivity. As in grief, there is an ability to experience a better mood in response to positive events. However, this too is differentiated by certain classic symptoms that are contrary to symptoms of grief. Atypical depression is marked by sleeping excessively, weight gain and increased appetite.

Grief can be extremely painful, but there are usually no indications that require it to be treated medically. However, there are instances where medical intervention may be necessary. If grief- related anxiety and insomnia interferes with normal daily schedules, it may have to be treated with conventional mild medication or alternative medicine. Unresolved grief may lead to clinical depression and anxiety disorders or serious physiological ailments like heart disease. If symptoms extend for more than two months then a psychological evaluation is necessary and may require aggressive treatment.

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