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Grief versus Depression: When to Seek Professional Advice

—Jennifer Miller, MA

Mr. Smith has been feeling really down recently. It is not without cause. He recently lost his wife to a long battle with cancer and is in the process of downsizing his home to move into a smaller, more manageable apartment. On top of that, his children have approached him with concerns about driving so he hasn’t been able to make it to the monthly veterans’ breakfast that he enjoys attending. Mr. Smith has been feeling helpless and isolated while mourning his wife and adjusting to his new routine.

This story is a familiar one to older adults everywhere. Loss and change are painful. It is sometimes difficult to determine if the sadness you are feeling part of the natural grief process or if it is a symptom of depression. This is especially true as an older adult. The loss of loved ones, changes in abilities and independence, and increased isolation may all occur rapidly without time to recover between stressors. One should allow time to recover emotionally from these events before returning to “normal.” So when does this sadness indicate a more serious issue than the natural grieving process?

Depression is more than feeling sad. Depression is not a normal part of aging and can be treated with most frequently a combination of therapy and medication. Its symptoms interfere with everyday life for weeks or months at a time. According to the American Psychological Association, persistent symptoms of depression include:

  1. Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  2. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that once brought joy
  3. Change in appetite and weight loss not explained by a diagnosed medical condition
  4. Sleep changes such as insomnia or oversleeping
  5. Anger and irritability resulting in a short temper
  6. Self-loathing or feelings of worthlessness
  7. Reckless behavior
  8. Trouble focusing or making decisions

It is important to remember that losses require a normal period of adjustment. Exhibiting one or more of these symptoms is normal during that adjustment time. If these symptoms are persistent, lasting weeks or months at a time, consider medical intervention. The best course of action for your symptoms should be coordinated between yourself and a doctor.

Depression is a real medical illness. Symptoms or a diagnosis of depression do not indicate a defect in one’s character or failure to adjust to changes. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing persistent depression symptoms, please seek mental health services or make an appointment with your healthcare provider.


Jennifer, an Elder Options Care Manager, has her Master’s Degree in Mental Health with an emphasis on Art Therapy. Jennifer has a passion for assisting older adults, the disabled, and their families by creating care services that enable a life lived fully every day.

Categories: Healthy Living