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Don’t Let Grief Become Depression

What you need to know about depression | VITAS Hospice

When someone we love dies, we grieve. Grieving is hard; we don’t have to like it. We may get upset with ourselves (or others) because of our grief. We may wish we (or others) could rise above it. We may think we (or others) should get over it quicker or easier. We may find grieving inconvenient, disruptive, painful or annoying. Grieving is all that and more. But it is also the natural reaction to significant loss.

Grieving is natural and we don’t want it to be any harder than it needs to be. We make it more difficult when we ask, What’s wrong with me? Or when we start thinking we should be “over it.” That’s when grief can become depression.

If we can keep our attention on the real problem—my loved one died—we can help ourselves avoid depression. Here are some other tips:

What is Depression?

Depression is a feeling of sadness, discouragement, pessimism, or despair that lasts for several weeks or months and interferes with the ability to manage day-to-day affairs. When we are sad, it is hard to concentrate or put energy into solving problems; the problems then get worse and can cause the sadness to increase. Depression then sets in. Something has to interrupt this pattern. Depression may also be caused by medications or by chemical changes in the body. 

Look for:

  • Appetite changes
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep
  • Decreased energy level
  • Decreased ability to concentrate

How to Prevent Depression

  • Maintain contact with people whom you enjoy being with.
  • Remain as physically, mentally, and intellectually active as possible.
  • Openly discuss your feelings with a family member, friend, or a member of the VITAS team.
  • Tell others what you need and want; do not expect them to read your mind.
  • Set reasonable, attainable goals for yourself. It is better to set a low goal and reach it than to set a goal too high and fail.
  • Control repetitive, negative thoughts.

Things to Consider

  • Your feelings are real.
  • Your problems are real and some degree of depression is normal.
  • It is normal for people who can’t understand what you feel to try and “jolly” you. You may be able to accept that in their limited way they are trying to help. If it further upsets you, tell them that that kind of talk is disrespectful of your feelings.
  • Fatigue and exhaustion can contribute to feelings of depression.
  • Pain can increase depression and depression can increase pain.
  • Depressed patients may have selfish tendencies that may cause the family to become angry.
  • If you are a caregiver, remember that you are not responsible for the patient’s depression.

What to Do

Control negative thinking by:

  • Yelling “STOP” loudly when you find yourself thinking negatively.
  • Visualizing a big red stop sign.
  • Popping yourself on the hand.
  • Getting up and moving to another place.
  • Allowing yourself a time (no more than 15 minutes) and a place to think negative thoughts. This way you are in control of the thoughts.
  • Distracting yourself. Get your mind involved in something else that replaces the negative thinking.
  • Think about what changes you can make to gain control of the situation.
  • Think about what provided you with feelings of worth in the past and what can be done now as a substitute.
  • Take risks in situations in which you can succeed.
  • Establish a set of “little” hopes and events to look forward to.
  • Relaxation.
  • Guided imagery and visualization.
  • Affirmation-recognize your self-worth.
  • Participate in an art activity.
  • Listen to music.
  • Take medications prescribed by your doctor for depression.