Recognizing whether you’re experiencing grief or depression is important to determine the path of action, yet many people do not know how to differentiate the two. They are often treated as one in the same, even by mental health professionals, which is not only counterproductive but often leads to new problems like drug dependency, deeper depression and anxiety disorders.
In my work with clients, I sometimes here statements similar to the following:
“I was so depressed because my friend died that I just had to take some Ativan (or some other type of benzodiazepine) and anti-depressants”
“I was so depressed because my hair fell that I just had to take some Ativan and anti-depressants”
“I was so depressed because my husband left me that I just had to take some Lorazepam and anti-depressants”
“I was so depressed because I miss the old foods I used to eat that I just had to take some Ativan and anti-depressants”
My response to them goes something like this:
“Yes, you’re supposed to feel sad when you experience great loss. That’s called grief.”
Then they respond with something like this:
“But I couldn’t stop crying.”
My response is this”
“Yes, that’s what happens during grief. It’s a normal and natural part of the grieving process.”
When you experience loss of any type, then grief is the natural response. Grieving must be allowed to proceed, otherwise you never fully recover from the loss. This is an example of situational depression. It needs time and the ability to cope with and feel feelings, not drugs.
Take the time to lie around, sob in your pillow, scream at the skies, hit something if you need to, throw rocks, stomp your feet, jump up and down or whatever needs to be done to purge them. Let your anger, outrage, sadness, etc. completely out. Feel it. Own it. The basic principle of mindfulness, which is to experience each moment fully without judgment, should be applied.
We are so programmed as a society, beginning in childhood and extending throughout our lifetime, with incessant messages in commercials, magazines, Internet, movies etc. that tell us we should pop a pill or a drink every time we feel angry, sad, shy, frustrated etc. that we now have an entire population that has never learned how to cope with feelings effectively. When one does not know how to cope with feelings, they turn to sugar, carbohydrates, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, street drugs and prescription drugs.
Medicating feelings when you are grieving a loss is never the answer. Feelings should be acknowledged, embraced, felt fully, experienced and expressed, so that they may dissipate and lose the power they have over your life. Anesthetizing them with antidepressants and Ativan (or some other form of benzodiazepine) interrupts the grieving process, and thus they remain indefinitely.
Treating grief as if it were depression, with drugs, can actually cause clinical depression. First of all, you’re never going to be able to grieve if you medicate yourself, and secondly, all antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication manipulate neurotransmitters in the brain. This ultimately leads to depletion of your neurotransmitters, which is the root of clinical or biochemical depression.
These concepts sound foreign to most because mental health professionals hand out the benzodiazepines, like Ativan, and antidepressants for everything under the sun like it’s candy. Basically they encourage the population to become drug dependent and incapable of dealing with feelings.
Dealing with grief is stressful for the body and mind, and when one is under stress they use up their nutrients faster. So one may find a variety of nutritional supplements that enable the body to handle stress better, like B vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, minerals etc. to be helpful during the process , but the primary mode of healing for grief is simply to feel.
Depression on the other hand occurs when there is no situation resulting in loss and grief. You feel depressed but can’t put your finger on why. It seems to occur for no reason, but they are hidden. The root cause in this situation is a deficiency, imbalance or disruption of neurotransmitters in the brain. Restoring balance to the neurotransmitters will alleviate the depression.
However, even with biochemical or clinical depression, benzodiazepines and antidepressants are still not the answer. These drugs artificially stimulate your neurotransmitters, essentially they trick your brain into thinking you have enough neurotransmitters and then the brain quits making them on their own. They ensure that you will never overcome your anxiety and depression because they make your brain dependent on the drugs to function normally. You become a socially acceptable drug addict.
In my book, What Your Psychologist Hasn’t Told You About Anxiety and Depression, I outline all the steps needed to identify the difference between grief or depression and how to overcome them, with a comprehensive, safe, and drug free approach — the way nature intended. Basically, it entails addressing all the underlying factors that disrupt and deplete neurotransmitters through changes in diet and lifestyle, avoidance of environmental toxins and inclusion of nutritional supplements. This enables the brain to produce and release neurotransmitters on its own and thus depression and all other mental health disorders dissipate.