According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States.
In 2014, an estimated 15.7 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode. And that’s just in the United States — globally, the World Health Organization estimates that depression affects around 350 million people.
What is Depression?
Depression is a severe mood disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and handles everyday activities like working, sleeping, eating, and maintaining relationships. There are many different types of depression as well, such as:
- Persistent depressive disorder, where the depressed mood lasts for at least two years.
- Perinatal or postpartum depression, which is when a woman develops depression after giving birth.
- Psychotic depression, when someone has both depression and some form of psychosis.
- Seasonal affective disorder, or depression brought on by lower sunlight levels in winter.
- Bipolar depression, which is experienced by people with bipolar disorder during a low.
Regardless of the type of depression, though, many people who suffer from it experience the same types of symptoms, such as:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood.
- Feeling hopeless or pessimistic.
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities.
- Decreased energy and fatigue.
- Restlessness or trouble staying still.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
- Changes in appetite or weight.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
- Unexplained aches and pains.
Not every person with depression will experience all of these symptoms, and even those who experience the same things may experience them with differences in severity.
Depression and Grief
Regardless of how depression manifests itself in a person, though, it usually has a significant effect on the way they grieve and the effects that grief has on them.
One thing grieving can do to a person with depression is exacerbate some of the mental symptoms that they already experience:
- Feelings of sadness and emptiness can be multiplied by a loss, no matter what kind of loss it is (death, divorce, breakup, etc.).
- Feelings of guilt might be made worse if they did not get to see their loved one before they passed away, or if they view a relationship ending as their fault.
- Pessimism might be made worse because now something terrible has happened in their life and affirmed their pessimistic views of the world around them.
- Thoughts of death or suicide might be more frequent, especially if their loss has a significantly negative impact on their everyday life.
Grieving with depression also can have a very real impact on a person’s physical health:
- Aches and pains can be caused by both grief and depression, so they might be magnified in situations where both are present.
- If a person has issues with appetite or weight due to depression, the spikes in blood sugar and blood pressure they may experience with grief could be especially dangerous.
- Fatigue and lethargy may be heightened for those experiencing both depression and grief.
Grief and depression have tangible effects on the mind and body, so when the two combine it can wreak havoc on a person both mentally and physically.
How to Help
If you want to be there for someone with depression who is experiencing loss, there are a few things that you can do to help. The first thing to realize is that depression isn’t just sadness — it is a medical condition.
Though you may mean well, telling someone with depression that “things will get better” or that they should “focus on the positive” isn’t something that will help them. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to help.
One thing that you can do for someone with depression who is grieving is let them know that you support their medical care.
Without being too pushy or invasive, make sure that they continue to seek whatever treatment they were on before they experienced the loss — whether that’s counseling, medication, or some other form of treatment. You could even offer to drive them to their appointments.
Simply letting them know that you are there to listen without judgment is another important step. If they know that they can open up to you without worrying about being judged or misunderstood, they will be less likely to internalize whatever they are feeling.
You also should try to stay in contact with them, even if it means being persistent. Call them frequently, and invite them to do healthy activities that they are interested in with you. Just be aware that they may not be willing to participate right away — it might take some time.
And when they do finally achieve something, even if it’s as small as going out with you and some mutual friends or family members, be sure to celebrate that with them. Tell them you are proud of them for taking those steps, even if they are small steps.