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When the Loss of a Loved One Leads to Depression

March 22, AD2017

Even St. John of the Cross experienced depression. Take a look at Dark Night of the Soul if you’ve never read it. Mother Teresa was depressed for 50 years. She once said, “The place of God in my soul is blank. There is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God… and then it is that I feel He does not want me—He is not there—God does not want me.”

If it can happen to them, it can happen to you.

What to Expect after Losing Someone You Love

Losing a loved one can cause a rollercoaster of emotions.  No two people deal with death in exactly the same way, and you may not be prepared for or understand how quickly your moods can change.  Common reactions include denial, disbelief, yearning, anger, humiliation, confusion, shock, despair, sadness, and guilt.  

These emotions vary in duration and intensity depending upon what type of loss you may have suffered.  Loss of a child, a spouse, a relative, or a friend can all have different effects on survivors.  A loss of a child can cause extreme feelings of injustice and the loss of a spouse can cause severe loneliness.  

You will need time to mourn and grieve for your lost loved one.  Feelings of grief can manifest in physical symptoms such as stomach pain, loss of appetite, intestinal upset, sleep problems, and low energy.  Depression and anxiety type symptoms can appear, but are usually sporadic.  If these persist and are more constant, you could be slipping into a deeper depression and will need to take measures to care for yourself.  

Ways to Cope With Depression

First, we’ll start with something you should not use as a coping mechanism.  Drugs and alcohol could be an easy way to drown your sorrows, but will only temporarily distract you from your feelings, and will only make you into a person that your lost loved one would not have wanted you to be.  You have to deal with your feelings because they will still be there after the drugs and alcohol wear off.  

Getting 7-8 hours of sleep and regular exercise can go a long way to help keep you moving forward.  Depression saps your energy and you will have to force yourself to get up and care for your body.  When you keep your body healthy, your mind will follow suit.  

Another option is to try a new skill.  Think of something you have been wanting to do and make it happen.  A new sport, dance or exercise class,  cooking class, or music lessons can provide a healthy distraction from sorrow and foster confidence in yourself that you can move on with your life.  

Getting a service or companion animal can be a great idea to help with feelings of depression and loneliness.  These dogs can provide their owners with a sense of purpose while giving constant, unconditional love.  A connection with the dog can help survivors realize that life still has more beautiful memories to offer.

Other coping techniques to look into might be Trauma Incident Reduction, Imagery Rehearsal Therapy, and Visual Kinesthetic Dissociation or Rewind Technique.  These are options that work for different people to help them cope with different stages of depression and anxiety.

There is a spiritual side to depression. Don’t forget that your mind and body are connected to your spirit. Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Msgr. John Cihak explored this in their book The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments, and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again, which you might find to be a particularly useful resource as a Catholic.

Do not forget to reach out and spend time with supportive family and friends, especially those you will be able to connect with spiritually from your church.  Isolating yourself will only make symptoms worse.  Family and friends can be your best therapy to get back on track and cherish the best memories of the loved ones you have lost.

By David Garcia

David Garcia runs SpiritFinder together with his best friend, Jennifer. After dealing with shame and guilt issues of his own, they created this site as a platform for advocacy on opening up on mental health. His aim is to provide information for people with mental illness.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

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  • Mark McCann

    Hey David…very informative article. I’ve found that depression is so connected to loss – not just of loved ones, but of innocence and dreams as well. I’ve also found that the best way for me to look at it is a long walk through a dark path. No one may fully understand that journey, but it’s powerful to know that someone is walking it alongside me. I’ve been in youth ministry and have walked that journey with others many times, never “diagnosing” or “curing” their depression, but acting as a loving empath to allow them to walk the path to the light of Christ once more. I really enjoyed your insights and your words! God bless!