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Depression Due to Bereavement

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 24 Oct 2020 | comments*Discuss
Grief Overwhelming Depressive Illness

Depression due to bereavement may occur when grief becomes overwhelming persistent and prevents a person from functioning in a normal capacity. Grief refers to the emotions, thinking patterns and actions that someone exhibits following the loss of a loved one. There is no one way of coping with the death of a loved one and people react to the death of a close friend or family member in different ways. Factors such as the relationship to the deceased as well as your own personality and views on death will all impact how you handle grief. Grief may also worsen during certain times of the year, such as holidays, birthdays or anniversaries, when you are perhaps reminded of the deceased.

Grief Phases

Grief tends to occur in different stages and these involve:

  • Shock, confusion and disbelief at the news
  • Acute pain, devastation and sadness as reality hits
  • Slow resolution and healing

Normal Grief Versus Depression

Grief and depression are not the same, as often believed. A person can grieve but not be depressed although many of the feelings involved in both can be shared. People who have suffered with bereavement may still become depressed eventually and some of the symptoms that may indicate a person is depressed are:

  • Constant guilt or regret about the bereavement
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and usual activities
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anger
  • Hallucinations related to the bereavement
  • Thoughts of suicide or an intense obsession with dying

Most experts seem to agree that there is a difference between normal grief and depression, although where the distinction is made is still under debate. Many of the symptoms of depression also occur after bereavement. The distinction probably lies in the severity of the symptoms and the length of time they are experienced and your doctor will decide if you are depressed based on your specific symptoms and experiences.

Risk Factors For Depression Following Bereavement

There is no 'test' or way to predict who will become depressed after suffering from bereavement. Those who are more likely to become depressed are:

  • People with a prior history of depression
  • Individuals with a family history of depressive illness
  • Socially isolated individuals
  • Persons who are unable to handle grief during initial phases of coping


If depression due to bereavement is diagnosed, then psychotherapy will likely be recommended, possibly in conjunction with antidepressant therapy. Antidepressants can be highly effective but they do not address the underlying grief issues so talking therapy is an important part of this multifaceted approach. You may wonder why medication would be needed if grief has been pinpointed as the likely cause of the depression; this is because chemical changes can occur in the brain of a depressed person and medications aim to correct these dysfunctions. Also, any untreated physical triggers of depression can make it more difficult for a person to grieve properly.

There are many different ways in which a person can respond to the loss of a loved one and unfortunately, medical professionals are sometimes hesitant to diagnose depression in these instances, for fear of labeling a person or compounding their emotional distress. This is one of the barriers that may be present to obtaining effective treatment for those who are depressed due to bereavement.

Grief Counselling and Depression

Grief counselling can be beneficial for treating depression due to bereavement. It allows a person to work through the various stages of grief and helps a person to accept the loss and share feelings around that loss. It also encourages the grieving person to cope and function independently without the deceased and helps that person to form new relationships with others.

Imagining a life without your loved one can leave you struggling with grief. If your grief has been persistent and does not seem to be lessening or you find it is affecting your ability to function each day, you should see your doctor. Also reach out to family and friends during this emotional time to obtain additional support. By using your support network and treating depression through psychotherapy and medications, you can move forward while still embracing the memory of your loved one.

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My mam died 9 months ago every day since isas raw as the day I lost her I have 2 son's and grandchildren and a marvelous supporting husband yet I feel desperately alone my parents travelled a lot while I was young and I was often left with other relatives this has opened up huge abandonement issues I thought I'd worked through years ago through therapy again I feel totally alone all my insecurities have come flooding backI feel like I have no one no one cares and no one wants to know but these are just my own thoughts my husband is so supportive but is at a loss as to what to do I can't see any end I'm speaking to my gp this week and seeing a counselor next month but all I want is my mam I feel like an 8 year old child being left again while she went on another trip with my father standing screaming because she left me and she's left me again
Babs12 - 24-Oct-20 @ 9:17 PM
I lost my dad nearly 4 years ago and I struggle most days with the grief. I didn't realise that I had a problem until about 6 months after he died in went to my gp and was prescribedantidepressantsI am now on a low dose but I still struggle every day with my loss and perhaps I am not always honest with myself let alone with my gp how I feel perhaps I will someday be free of antidepressants
M - 12-Feb-19 @ 9:03 PM
I just lost my husband hollween morning heart attack in main bedroom and died I was his career ,wife,nurse,over 20years together plus aultisic child .i feel very loses right know house to quite my husband never stop talking I wish I can hear his voice again his very kind love caring I so miss I don,t have any family or friends to talk to I’m on my own with my son.i also suffered depression as well last 3 years I stop taking my meds since he died I just sitting down or go sleep all day wait my son come home I act normal with him.when he goes to bed I do same lie on one off bedrooms not my main bedroom since my husband died
Mandy - 11-Dec-18 @ 8:13 PM
I have one golden rule in life no matter how you are feeling or what life throws at you you must take good care of yourself eat well rest if possible don't be afraid of your depression it will only make it worse sometimes just give into it sometimes ride it out and other times let it wash over you depending on how you are feeling then hopefully you will be the master of it rather than the other way around
Crafter - 11-Jun-14 @ 9:05 PM
Hello i nursed my late mom with cancer & demenita when she was told she had 24 mm tumor in her breast that was successful then i saw her changing out of character she didn't know who my sister & me she then diagnosis with terminal cancer she was the most beautiful lady watching her drop from 16 to 6 stone it was dreadful .i feel guilty some times because i am alive even though i ill myself with ataxia & other problems .i think both cancer & demintia is dreadful with support of Marie curie nurses they help to prepare my family for losing her she had the moat beautiful smile .
suski - 6-May-14 @ 4:50 PM
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 4 yrs old. I was abused in every way you can imagine by family members who should of protected me,that was from the age of 7 yrs to 14 yrs.My little sister was killed in a house fire when I was 14 yrs old along with one of my abusers,who caused the fire. My other abuser then continued the abuse and consequently my family were all adopted out and put in care homes. We found each other after 17 yrs apart. My daughter has told me I was a terrible negligent parent,even though I didn't know she was being abused under my roof while I was at work trying to make a better life for her than what I had, and therefore I cannot have any contact with my grand children who I was very close to for 3 yrs.Its been nearly a year since I have seen them. My family now know the truth about one of my siblings and have all disowned me for telling them. I went through 3 yrs of counselling for the abuse I suffered as a child that was 4 yrs ago,I was on anti depressants as well,the counselling didn't really work and the tablets took the edge of who I am, but kept me functioning well enough to get by. I'm now feeling suicidal and empty nearly every day of the week and can see it getting worse before it gets better. I've been with my boyfriend 3 yrs now and he's been great about all of this,and keeps telling me I have the right to be happy as I've been through hell and back my whole life,but I am grieving the loss of my entire family again but with no graves to visit and no closure. I recognize that I am depressed I know the feelings and signs,but I am not going on the tablets again just yet, and have set up an appointment to speak with my Dr about Bereavement Counseling. I hope it helps because I can't go on feeling like this, one day not caring at all other days wanting to die because I messed up so badly due to my up bringing. No one can change my past but I'd like to at least be able to live with it,manage the depression and be happy for what time I have left with my disabled son,loving boyfriend and beautiful step daughter.
Kaz - 19-Feb-13 @ 11:52 PM
My dad was diagnosed with a tumour on his jaw in July 2011 and by the end of September 2011 he was gone. I have really, really struggled, not just with losing him so soon, but with watching him go through it. It was like he became an old man overnight and was grotesquely deformed by it and couldn't talk. The whole thing was completely heartbreaking. I can see I was depressed for about 10 months, and just seem to be coming out the other side now, but only because I sought counselling. Someone at work suggested it to me because I was desperate and didn't know what to do. I experienced regular panic attacks, anxiety, fear, insomnia, and so on. I felt like quitting my job, ditching my friends, jumping infront of a tube train and everything else. I hated having to face people every day and just wanted to stay at home. I feel like I've been to hell and back, but the counselling has really brought me through. It was really uncomfortable to talk about it at first because I was in floods of tears every session and I hated having to go over it, but do you know what, I came away each time like some of the burden had been lifted. And my counsellor was very, very understanding and compassionate. If you don't get on with your counsellor, there is nothing wrong with asking to see someone else. Please speak to someone about how you're feeling.
Londonshaz - 28-Aug-12 @ 3:49 PM
21 years ago I witnessed my boyfriend having an asthma attack, I tried to save him but he died. Then a friend committed suicide last year and that's when it triggered my depression because I hadn't grieved properly in the previous years. I'm now on antidepressants for 6 months and having psychotherapy which hopefully will put me back on track.
suzukisv - 19-Jul-11 @ 4:56 PM
My 1st husband died of cancer 14years ago at age 34. we were together for ten years and have two daughters, now 22 and 15. I cant seem to get over losing him, he battled for a year and a half and i looked after him at home till he died. i got married again but found myself in a violent relationship. this has now ended. I cant forget my 1st husband, every day is hard, im taking tablets but it still hurts and feels very new still. I have tried talking therapy but it is to painful to talk without breaking down. I feel totally lost.
darkangel - 24-Jun-11 @ 10:17 AM
Hello, My dad died Jan 2011 of cancer and had, had this illness for four years. He battled on bravely and I promised him I would take care of mum. Mum was very good in the first 6 months, but since that time she doesn't want to do anything. She hasn't cooked a meal for over a year. She doesn't want to go out and socialise with family and friends unless it's with me and my family. We have done all that we can taking her away on holiday with us, doing her garden, taking her out for meals etc but when she gets home all she does is watches the tv. She says it's her friend. I have a sister that doesn't do anything apart from the odd visit for a cup of tea then she's gone to live her life. We were and still are all missing dad terribly but I feel that I have lost my mum too. I have booked her to see her on GP on Friday so I am hoping he will suggest something. She was taking antidepressants but stopped because she felt they were not doing her any good. I am beginning to feel depressed myself as I did promise dad that I would take care of mum, but now I'm at the end of my tether? Is there anyone out there that has any advice, thankx
Debs - 11-May-11 @ 6:27 PM
Since suffering two bereavements, last year, I have learnt, through experience, the symptoms of depression. These are: panic attacks, crying, feeling guilty, afraid. Thoughts of worthlessness and suicide. Being tortured by persecutory thoughts. Another important symptom: waking up in the early hours - e.g. 4.00am or 5.00am - so that the torture continues. I could not cope with these symptoms and had to take antidepressants. They have helped me.
Angela - 11-Apr-11 @ 8:31 AM
I have no qualifications other than studying for a diploma in counselling but I have worked with both my children who have suffered depression due to ME and know for sure you can become depressed long after something awful happened. I would suggest you seek counselling (it doesn't sound as if you need medication ) and discuss why you family's comments have offended you. Is it possible you haven't quite come to terms with your grief and they seem callous to you? I know many people have a tendency to say, 'Pull yourself together' or 'Get on with your life' when they have no idea whatsoever of how you or anyone feels after losing a loved on. Please seek help. It sounds as if you are getting there but reminders (from things said) are interfering with your healing. Take care and know others know exactly how you feel.
treesagreen - 5-Apr-11 @ 12:35 PM
In January 2007 my first son was stillborn after a routine scan showed that he had died. We have no reason for his death. Just under eleven months later our daughter was born prematurely following a road accident and died very shortly after her birth. I have struggled with my grief but never considered myself to be depressed. However certain family members have been very cruel since our losses and their behaviour has pushed me to the point where I think I now might be. Their behaviour started just three days after the loss of our son and has continued for four years, causing a family rift. Recently they have pushed me further than ever, becoming controlling and abusive to the point that I suffered a panic attack for the first time in my life and have had many more since then. I feel unable to see them anymore but now I am having panic attacks even without seeing or speaking to them, just the thought of them makes me feel ill. I also feel transported right back to the early days of my losses and am struggling to come to terms with them again. I know that I will never "get over" losing my babies but I thought that I had reached a place where I could cope with my grief. I keep crying a lot and feeling physically weak and exhausted. I've also suffered a lot of small illnesses since the latest upset, mainly things that occur when I am run down (tonsillitis, an ear infection etc) The awful things that have been said and done since I lost my first son have become so bound up in my grief and I feel like I am having to justify grieving to family members who can't understand why I am so hurt by the way they have behaved. I know grief is hard to deal with but I just don't know know if it has finally turned to depression because of this continuous nasty comments and behaviour. Is it possible for grief to turn to depression four years after my first loss and three years after my second because of the actions of certain people?
JLR - 27-Mar-11 @ 10:59 PM
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