163. The Difference Between Grief and Depression

A Conversation with Kay Redfield

I mean, in some cases, some people do get depressed in the middle of their grief and they really need to be treated for depression. But what I wanted to do was make the distinction as many people have is that grief is fundamentally a healthy sort of thing; it’s human, it’s not a disease, it’s nothing you want to medicalize. You don’t want to treat it away, you don’t want people to suffer unnecessarily, but you certainly don’t want to take away the experience of that kind of re-establishment of a relationship.

“And depression, the experience is unremitting for the most part. I mean, it’s not like you don’t get very much of a break from depression. Grief is different. Grief is much more tidal; it comes and goes. Anybody who has grieved knows and will describe that just being swept by a wave of grief. You think that you’re over it, you think you’re to the other side, and then all of the sudden you get blindsided by a wave of grief and each one of those waves of grief I am convinced serves a good function in the mind and heart, in the terms of forcing you to have to see somebody in a slightly different light. Each time is a slightly less painful.

“Depression is just unremitting, it is much more disruptive of sleep, it’s — you’re much more likely to be impaired intellectually with depression. It just goes on and on and people think about suicide. Grief is — can respond to the environment.

“It can respond to solace. One of the things that’s pretty interesting is that literature does help. I think that when you’re depressed, you can’t concentrate long enough and well enough to read for the most part; some people can, but by and large people — that’s one of the first things that goes, is the capacity to read meaningful literature. With grief, that’s true. For awhile you can’t read, but then you are able to receive solace. From friends, from family, from colleagues, from the rights of church, whatever it is, music, poetry, and in my case, I turned more to literature and I found it immensely helpful.”

About Patrick Day

In 2010, I escaped from four long years of deep, dark depression. This blog shares lessons I learned from those years as depicted in my autobiography - How I Escaped from Depression - as well as other insights about depression and anxiety that only come from someone who has gone through it. When you have a heart attack, you become an expert in heart attacks. When you have diabetes, you become an expert in that condition. As such, I am an expert in depression, with a four-year experiential degree and graduate studies in how to live a life going forward that keeps the ever-lurking Depression at a healthy distance.
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