What to Know About the Depression Stage of Grief

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If you’re grieving the loss of something or someone you cared about, you may find yourself feeling sad and low. Everything may feel bleak and hopeless and you may not feel like doing things you once cared about. You may feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to get out of bed and go about your day the way you did before.

If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Many people have similar experiences when they grieve a loss, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, an idea, a sense of control, or anything else that had meaning to them.

This article explores the feelings of depression you may experience in the aftermath of a loss, as well as some coping strategies that may be helpful. It also explains the depression stage of grief, as part of the stages of grief theory.

What Are the Five Stages of Grief?

In 1969, a Swiss-born American psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published a book titled “On Death and Dying,” in which she theorized that people grieve in five stages, which are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that this theory was among the first to deal with death and became a standard text for professionals working with terminally ill patients and their families. This theory has also gained popular appeal.

The theory is comforting because it brings order to something horrifying, says Jonathan DePierro, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

However, Dr. DePierro explains that recent research suggests most people do not fit neatly into these stages when they experience a loss. "Grief is messy. People grieve in many ways and feel many emotions at once, so there isn’t necessarily a predictable process and timeline for grieving," says Dr. DePierro.

That said, Dr. DePierro notes that this theory can help people understand what kinds of reactions to generally expect after a loss.

What Is the Depression Stage of Grief?

The depression stage is the fourth stage of the grief theory. Dr. DePierro explains that it was initially believed that people moved through the stages of grief one at a time, although that’s not necessarily true.

People may experience sadness and other symptoms of depression at any point in the grieving process, or may not experience them at all. The duration, frequency, and intensity of their feelings and symptoms may also vary. Everyone reacts to loss differently.

However, it can be helpful to understand the characteristics and symptoms of the depression stage of grief as explained by this theory, because it can help you recognize some of the experiences you may go through in the aftermath of a loss.

Symptoms of the Depression Stage of Grief

According to Dr. DePierro, these are some of the depressive thoughts and feelings you may experience while you’re grieving:

  • Feeling sad, empty, or numb
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the requirements of daily life
  • Experiencing despair and hopelessness
  • Sleeping or staying in bed all day
  • Crying often
  • Experiencing a cascade of sadness with every reminder of the loss
  • Thinking that others will not understand your loss
  • Believing that your grief will overwhelm others
  • Withdrawing from other people instead of letting them help you
  • Feeling tired and low on energy

“These reactions are normal. They generally become less intense over time and are not usually signs of a mental health disorder requiring professional treatment,” says Dr. DePierro.

Coping With the Depression Stage of Grief

Dr. DePierro shares some strategies that can help you manage feelings of depression during the grieving process:

  • Accept support: It’s important to accept support from friends, family, colleagues, spiritual leaders, and others who have been helpful in the past. Withdrawing from people often makes feelings of depression worse. 
  • Don’t avoid your emotions: Work on accepting all the emotions that come up. No feeling is right or wrong. Self-judgments like “I shouldn’t be feeling this way now,” can make feelings of depression worse.
  • Perform a meaningful ritual: Rituals and routines can help you process and understand the loss. For instance, if you have lost a loved one, there are many ways to remember them and honor their life. Some people write letters to the person who has passed away or seek comfort in the traditions of their faith.
  • Seek help if you need it: If the grief takes hold of your life, leaving no space for anything else, it may be helpful to seek professional support because there are effective treatments available. You should consider seeking help if you tend to avoid reminders of the loss, continue to have trouble accepting the loss even after six months, feel numb, empty, or overwhelmed by anger, or have thoughts of suicide.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing a loss is painful and difficult, and you may find yourself experiencing symptoms of depression. These symptoms are part of a normal reaction to a loss and generally fade with time. However, if you find yourself unable to cope with the loss, you can seek help from a mental healthcare professional.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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