Depression and anxiety after loss: What can I do?

29 May 2019
If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety after the loss of a loved one, what can you do? You have more options than you may realise. Guest blogger John Moreland shares his best advice for dealing with depression and anxiety while grieving.

Following the death of a loved one, it’s common for your mental health to suffer. Depression and anxiety can develop, and it can be difficult to know what to do when this happens. People expect you to “get over” your loss after a certain amount of time, but if you have developed an anxiety or depressive disorder, this becomes a lot harder to do.

So what options do you have? More than you may realise. When you are depressed, it’s easy to assume that there is nothing you can do and that you have to weather these feelings indefinitely, but both depression and anxiety are treatable illnesses. Understanding and accepting this is your first step toward healing and regaining a sense of normalcy.

Understanding anxiety and depression in relation to loss

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental disorders, and they are very often co-occurring. Although many people develop these problems due to chemical imbalances in the brain - in other words, as a simple illness - they can both also be triggered by a traumatic life event, such as the loss of a loved one.

When this happens, it can be harder to diagnose. This is because grief - a natural and even potentially healing reaction to loss - has many of the same symptoms of depression, and the two can look very much the same. In particular, depression looks a lot like something called complicated grief, a disorder whereby the feelings related to loss do not dissipate over time.

It is thus important to know the differences: depression is more pervasive, taking over all aspects of your life, and is less likely to diminish over time. It is also more likely to be linked to feelings of worthlessness, and to make it difficult for someone to carry out the regular activities of everyday life. It is similar with anxiety. Experts recommend that, if you are still feeling intense feelings of sadness and anxiety six months after a loss, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Common treatments

Anxiety and depression are most commonly treated through a combination of therapy and medication. If you have developed anxiety and/or depression as a result of loss, a doctor will aim to treat the disorder in order to make the grief recovery process easier.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be particularly effective at treating anxiety disorders, and it can also help with depression. Whatever therapy you have, however, will also be geared toward helping you move on from your loss.

Meanwhile, antidepressants, and most commonly SSRIs, are often used to treat both anxiety and depression. They are not effective in treating complicated grief, but they can alleviate depressive and anxiety symptoms in someone experiencing it.  

Other ways to cope when mourning include looking into a support group, an online bereavement programme or contacting a bereavement charity such as Cruse Bereavement Care. The ability to connect with others or to have access to grief resources can be especially cathartic and help pave the way toward healing.

Lifestyle changes

Another very important part of treatment is self-care. Therapy and medication may be the focus, but they need a solid foundation of healthy lifestyle habits. These include things like regular exercise, a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and maintaining an active social life. Many people also find it therapeutic to connect with others who have experienced loss or to even work through an online bereavement programme.

These habits all have their individual mental health benefits, but combined they form a routine that can provide a much-needed sense of normality when you are grieving. It is not always easy to stick to them, so enlist the help of loved ones whenever possible.

Once you feel better, you will be in a better place emotionally and physically to deal with your bereavement and, ultimately, move on. 

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Blog written by John Moreland of Elder Impact. All rights reserved. Any views and opinions expressed in news articles are not those of Just Retirement Limited, Just Retirement Money Limited or Partnership Life Assurance Company Limited.

Image credit: Lukas Rychvalsky via ShutterStock