The depression stage of grief, so called by Dr. Kübler-Ross, typically includes heavy sadness, a desire to isolate, and feelings of hopelessness.1 It can comfort a person to know that what they’re experiencing is a common part of grieving for some, and that they’re not alone in their journey
What Is the Depression Stage of Grief?
The depression stage of grief is a period in which a person becomes filled with sadness, withdraws, and becomes fatigued with the weight of their loss.1
There are many different theories on grief, but grief is as unique as a fingerprint.2
Each person can experience it differently, and even the same person can notice different reactions to different types of loss.
What Are the Stages of Grief?
In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Kübler-Ross created the five stages of grief model after working with clients experiencing grief related to terminal illness. The stages were set in order of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.1 They are meant to help clinicians better understand how grief and depression might be experienced, and what the person is going through at each stage.
Common Emotions During the Depression Stage of Grief
This is not a specifically outlined set of symptoms a person experiences in the depression stage, and the range can vary due to the uniqueness of each person, and vagueness of this stage’s classification.3
However, there are some general depression stage symptoms that a person may encounter like feeling sad, crying, and shutting down.1
Feelings during the depression stage of grief can include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of emptiness
Common Thoughts During the Depression Stage of Grief
In my work as a counselor, I have come across many clients that have experienced some version of the depression stage of grief while dealing with a loss. Everyone’s thoughts may be a bit different, but there have been variations of similar ones. These might include the worry that the sadness won’t subside; that no one understands your struggle; and that other people don’t want to hear about your loss.
Thoughts during the depression stage of grief can include:
- You would rather not talk to anyone
- Your sadness will never decrease
- You should self-isolate
- How overwhelmed you are
- How hard it is to think about anything else
Examples of Depression In Grief
Depression in grief can present in a variety of ways, but some of the most common expressions of it include excessive crying, separating from others, and being consumed by sadness.4
It can also manifest within self-isolation and a general loss of interest in life.
Why Does Depression Happen In Grief?
Dr. Kübler-Ross believed that the depression stage of grief is vital in order for a person to be able to move on into peace and acceptance.1
In general, symptoms of depression are some of the most common when it comes to loss, especially bereavement.8
If you are experiencing any of them, there is nothing abnormal about that.
When Does Depression In Grief Become a Problem?
As grief can be very emotionally consuming, there may be a point that someone needs a little extra help healing. Most importantly, a person should be aware of thoughts of self-harm or suicidality, as they can benefit from seeking professional guidance. Also, if grief becomes overpowering and limits functioning (ex. self-neglect), this could indicate that emotions have become complex, and getting help should be considered.
How to Cope with the Depression Stage of Grief
Grief can stem from a variety of events, and that means individualizing your specific coping skills to align with your specific situation is necessary. So, consider what you are grieving, and then see which strategies best apply to your experience. As I always teach my clients, make sure that your healthy coping mechanisms are good in both the present moment and in the long term.
Strategies that can help you cope with the depression stage of grief include:
- Seek out support: This can be from friends, family, community, neighbors, therapists, or anyone you can turn to; social support has been known to help with depression in grief.5
- Practice self-care: Depression can make it especially tough to take care of yourself, which is why it can be so helpful to routine things like eating well, showering, getting exercise, etc.6
- Express your feelings: Releasing built up emotions can be beneficial, and there are many ways to do this: paint, journal, craft, sing, move your body, etc.
- Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself at this time. Grief is a normal process; don’t beat yourself up over how you’re feeling or invalidate your feelings.
- Memorialize: This can be a very helpful grief approach, as it creates a way to honor the person lost.6
- “Letting go” rituals: This is where your unique culture and/or family traditions and beliefs can help. Is there a way you were taught to deal with loss that you liked? If it is safe and you think it might be worth a try, try to see how it makes you feel. Sometimes, this can include symbolic things like ceremonies.
How Long Goes the Depression Stage of Grief Last?
There is no set time frame for any of the five stages of grief.1
All of the stages can fluctuate in how long they last; some may not appear at all and some stages may repeat themselves.3
Navigating through the five stages of grief isn’t the only way to grieve. Everyone’s grief and the length of their experience is different, no matter which stage they might experience.
How Hard Is the Depression Stage of Grief to Go Through?
Any symptoms of grief may be tough. However, depression stage type symptoms can make it extra hard to take care of oneself, socialize, and feel hopeful. Keeping that in mind, these symptoms are only a few of the ones you may experience, and can differ in severity from person to person. There is no cookie-cutter mold for this stage as everyone’s grief and loss experience is different.
How Can I Move Past the Depression Stage of Grief?
Grief is a natural process. When experiencing grief, if you notice signs that align with the depression stage of grief, it likely means that these emotions are how you are processing things. Over time, people move through their grief, and they may experience other stage related symptoms, or they might not.7
Grief isn’t a linear process. If you begin to feel like you are “stuck” in any of the stages though, it can be a sign to seek out professional assistance.
Professional Help for Grief
Grief can be very tough to go through. If you are struggling through it alone, and the support or coping skills you’ve turned to haven’t been helping, finding professional help is a good next step. There are many options that help a person cope with grief, and these can range from support groups to individual therapy. These offer the perfect opportunity to tune into your specific needs surrounding your grieving process, and connect with the resources that most align with you. When you’ve exhausted your resources, reaching out to professional groups or individuals can give you an extra boost to help with your grief. Things can improve, and the grief can shift.
Professional help and support options for grief include:
- Individual grief counseling: This is a very encompassing option, as it can come from someone in your community; a religious figure you turn to for faith-based counseling; or grief support psychoeducation from places like funeral homes.
- Grief groups: These can include virtual support groups, in-person groups, and group forums. These can be helpful because they put you in contact with others who are dealing with similar battles and can understand, support, and make you feel less isolated in your grief.
- Therapy: You do not have to seek out a specific grief counselor, as most therapists are trained to help address grief through psychotherapy. However, you can ask your therapist if grief counseling is something they offer; and if not, they will be able to refer you to a therapist that can.
Knowing that you’re not alone in experiencing the depression stage of grief can be a comfort in itself. Remind yourself of the normalcy of every reaction people may have when they grieve someone or something. You may experience these feelings for a brief period or a longer one; there is no right or wrong amount or feeling. If you get to a point where the feelings and thoughts are too much to cope with on your own, reach out for professional help