Is It Grief or Depression? Guest Post by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

January 25, 2018

Do you ever struggle with deciphering whether you are feeling grief or depression? Do you wonder if you need a little extra help? It is so hard to know at times because we all grieve so differently.

To kick off our new series on grief, I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Michelle Bengtson as our guest today. She has a unique insight both as a professional and as someone who understands deep pain. You can find her blogging over on her own website at  http://www.DrMichelleBengtson.com.  


Is It Grief or Depression?

Guest Post by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

In my private practice as a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, I hear this question frequently, “Is it grief or something more?” Just recently a middle-aged female patient asked, with tears streaming down her face. “Isn’t it normal to grieve after losing someone you love?”

As I began to answer, she quickly added,

“And why can’t anyone seem to understand? They lost her too!”

She recounted the details of her loss, the pain clearly written across her face. She needed to share, and I took the time to listen.

As I listened to her questions and began to formulate a response, I was mentally transported back to my own experience several years prior. Almost nine months after losing my mother and best friend, I had to figure out how to manage our first Christmas without her.

If the truth be told, I wasn’t ready to assume the role of matriarch of the family, but somehow it was thrust upon me. By 10:00 on Christmas morning, I was done. I wanted every decoration taken down and put away. It was more than I could bear.

I wanted Christmas behind me. I wanted the pain to go away. I wanted others to understand.

In my profession, patients come to my office with a variety of medical and mental health concerns: grief after losing a loved one, anxiety, depression, memory loss after concussions, stroke, or dementia, just to name a few. Sometimes it helps just to share and get an objective opinion. Sometimes we are a little too close to the situation to be able to assess our own situation clearly. That was the case here.

First, it’s important to understand that everyone grieves differently. Several people may grieve the loss of the same individual, yet the rate and depth and way they grieve will be unique to each of them. We can’t set limits or boundaries on how people grieve any more than we can have input regarding how the sun rises each morning. We know it will, but it’s different in its glory, majesty, and radiance every day.

Yet I do know that you can take comfort in knowing that when it seems others don’t understand, or they grieve differently than you do –

God understands and He longs to comfort you.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18)

And when you feel alone or feel like others don’t understand, you can call on God, and He will listen and answer your cries.

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 17:6)

In His loving-kindness, God knew that it would hurt our hearts to lose those we love. Even Jesus wept after His friend Lazarus died. God also knew that we would need to grieve not only people but grieve the loss of dreams, hopes, and desires. Grief is a natural, normal, healthy way to process loss.

When grief lasts an extended period of time, however, or begins to effect our health and functional activity, it can sometimes progress into depression.

Some signs and symptoms of depression may include: Feeling sad, blue, down, or numb or perhaps, feeling irritable or agitated, concentration difficulty, feeling guilty, feeling worthless, helpless, or hopeless, difficulty making decisions.

Other symptoms include decreased energy or motivation, decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities, decreased social interaction with friends or family, or crying more frequently than usual, or even thoughts of suicide.

Sometimes the signs are more subtle such as a change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less), a change in appetite (either eating more or eating less), unintentional weight gain or loss, unremitting aches/pains, excessive use of substances, and excessive work absences.

If you notice that more than three or four of these have been true for you for more than a couple of weeks, and it has been longer than six months since your loss, I would encourage you to see your general medical practitioner to first rule out a medical reason for these symptoms. If no medical reason can be found, then it would be appropriate to seek out a mental health practitioner to provide you with support and assistance.

Whether you’re going through grief after the loss of a loved one or walking through the valley of depression,

I encourage you to guard your own heart and mind.

Times like that are open season for the enemy to come and encamp and wreak havoc during a particularly vulnerable time.

Every day, we have between 30,000-70,000 thoughts. If we are not careful, we can begin to think things that are not helpful to our well-being. Scripture is very clear that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Essentially, we have to examine our thoughts and make sure that they are consistent with Scripture and what God says about us. If they are not, we need to reject them and replace them with God’s truth.

Even during the painful times, the times of grief and loss, and times when we experience debilitating depression, we can take God at His word. He promises that He works ALL things together for our good. It can be hard to see, and hard to understand, but that is faith and trust come into play.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

Finally, extend yourself some grace, just like you would offer to others. You will get through this, with God’s help.

Because of Him, #HopePrevails!

To order Hope Prevails click here.

For a Free eBook on How to Help a Depressed Loved One, click here.

For more helpful information about what you need to know when you have a depressed loved one, read here.

For more about what not to say to a depressed loved one, read here suggestions about supportive things you can say to a depressed loved one read here

 

 

 


Please meet our guest today – 

Dr. Michelle Bengtson (PhD, Nova Southeastern University) is an international speaker, and the author of best-selling “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” and the newly released companion “Hope Prevails Bible Study.”  She has been a neuropsychologist for more than twenty years. She is in private practice in Southlake, Texas where she evaluates, diagnoses, and treats children and adults with a variety of medical and mental health disorders. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith to address issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for them. She offers sound practical tools, affirms worth, and encourages faith.

Dr. Bengtson offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. She and her husband of 30 years have two teenage sons and reside in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. She blogs regularly on her own site: http://www.DrMichelleBengtson.com

For more hope, stay connect with Dr. Michelle Bengtson at  Blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.

 


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20 Comments

  1. Reply

    sarahgirl3

    Michelle, you put this so well, which is why I always love reading your words. I know everyone in my family grieved differently for my Mom 15 years ago, and my aunt has been stuck. It was hard for a couple years to watch her and then feel like maybe I should still be more sad. But we are all on our own timeline.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Sarah, So true, we all grieve differently and on our time schedules. Sure must have been hard to lose your Mom. I bet you still miss her. Maree

  2. Reply

    Karen

    Such a good reminder to be assured that people grieve in different ways and that it’s ok. But at the same time, we do have to move on as acceptance becomes a part of our experience of grief. Good stuff here. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Karen, Thank you for stopping by and adding to our conversation. Maree

  3. Reply

    adaughtersgiftoflove

    I shared this with Dr. Bengston before, that I was delivered of a grieving spirit through prayer. I had a doctor who wanted to give me an anti depressant, I said no. Later, after suffering TMJ, she gave it to me saying it was good for that, I could not get up. I had learned to live with pain, and in my experience some pain may occur in all ways, mental, physical and even spiritual. I stopped taking it. One day, after a lot of prayer and study, I just had my mother to pray for me. Later, I had a dream, she was taking a baby (me) away from a woman in a shroud. The dream was plain and God delivered me from grieving. It did not involve a death, and I have heard that is a personal hell, I don’t remember the quote. I know people grieve to a point and that is normal, but when allowed to continue, it can be an oppressing spirit. I encourage people to seek medical attention, take medicine if they need to. The mind and soul can become a battleground or the devil’s playground, we must keep it renewed in Christ and lift each other up. If that story helps someone overcome grief, it blesses me, just be careful who you let pray for you, it has to be a Spirit filled person of faith. And also of dream interpretation, there are counterfeits to God’s ways.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      I am so glad that you were able to be delivered from your grieving with prayer. I know it sure can help. I too encourage people to treat whatever ails them from all aspects and to cover it all with prayer. Yes, many times medicine is necessary and can help tremendously. Most important there is no shame in getting help. Maree

    2. Reply

      Dr. Michelle Bengtson

      That’s part of what I love about God–He isn’t limited, and He can’t be put in a box. How He heals and delivers one person from their affliction may be totally different than how He does it for someone else. But He gives us the opportunity to defeat the enemy always by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. Thanks for sharing your testimony here.

  4. Reply

    Brenda

    Michelle, you always have such a sound perspective. I need to order your book. Thanks for sharing with us today, and thank you Maree for sharing Michelle here today. xoxo

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Brenda, Yes, I need to order her book too. She has such wisdom. Maree

    2. Reply

      Dr. Michelle Bengtson

      Brenda,
      Thank you for your kind comments. I pray I always offer a perspective grounded in His truth and hope. I pray you will be blessed by my book, and the new companion Hope Prevails Bible Study. #HopePrevails!

  5. Reply

    Leslie

    Maree, I was so glad to find this article in my mailbox today. Michelle, thank you again for your wisdom and for pointing us always to the right perspectives, to Jesus, and to God the Father who are always walking right along side us on the difficult roads we face in life. I appreciate you and your insight so much, Michelle, and you, too, Maree! Blessings to both of you as well as over your words and ministry!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Leslie,
      I am so glad you stopped by to read and leave a comment. Yes, we were all blessed by Michelle’s wise words. I am so happy she was our guest today. Blessings to you, Maree

    2. Reply

      Dr. Michelle Bengtson

      Leslie,
      I’m thankful for friends like you, and that you took the time to visit and read here today. I know people always have a choice how they spend their time, and I’m thrilled you spent a few precious moments with us here. #HopePrevails!

  6. Reply

    Cheryl

    What a wonderful post! A big thank you to you, Maree, and to Dr. Bengtson for sharing her heart, her wisdom, and her expertise. I related to what she said on so many levels, and having suffered multiple deep losses, it is almost like I have begun to see a pattern in how my grief evolves into depression….it is almost like you can sense in your spirit when the transition is taking place, if that makes sense. We can all look back and remember the darkness and how hard it is to walk out of, and one of the hardest parts is that each season of grief may be different…not only for each person who is experiencing it, but for us, individually. For example, when I lost my dear Daddy while my husband and I were finally expecting a baby after years of infertility struggles, my grieving process was SO different from when I lost my Mom. The extreme stress of my already high-risk pregnancy forced me into a place of almost having to postpone the deepest throes of grief until after our precious son was safely born (praise God). My husband says I cried myself to sleep every night, and I don’t even remember doing that. I remember after our son was born, how the reality of the grief and deep loss settled over me full force, even though I had been silently and profusely grieving…it was like I was forced into holding back the flood gates until after our baby was born. And, when those flood gates were permitted to be opened, I went into a very hard, deep place of darkness, even though it was the most wonderful time of our lives, in so many other ways. It was so bittersweet. During the loss of my dear Mom, life was different, and I processed the grief far differently. Sorry to be so lengthy…I could go on and on about other seasons of grief and the one through which we are currently walking. Suffice to say that I really, really gleaned so much from this post, and my heart is very grateful to both of you. God bless you both!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Cheryl,
      I love what you had to say about patterns of grief and how it can be different each time. I hope everyone reads your comment. All of you words were filled with such wisdom. I am learning so much as I too walk through seasons of grief.

      I am so sorry for your losses. It must be so hard to lose both parents. Praying for you in your current season of loss.

      On a joyous note, I am glad you were able to have a precious son. Thank you for stopping by and leaving some very helpful words.

      Blessings,

      Maree

    2. Reply

      Dr. Michelle Bengtson

      Cheryl,
      I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure so many losses, and seasons of grief. I, too, have lost both parents–due to very different circumstances and at very different seasons in my life. Both were painful, but different from the other. You’re right that each grief season can be so different from the last, and different from how others process grief. On the one hand, I’m so glad God didn’t create us like a cookie cutter, but sometimes, it would be easier to process seasons if we had a reference point from “last time.” But the one reference point we can always hold on to is that God is good, and He is always faithful. He is always near to the broken-hearted, and He catches every tear that falls. May you always know His hope that prevails! #HopePrevails

  7. Reply

    Bette

    Wow! How God knew I needed to read this blog and these comforting verses this morning! Thank you, Maree, for providing it for us;)

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      You are so welcome! Blessings – Maree

    2. Reply

      Dr. Michelle Bengtson

      Bette,
      I always love to see and hear how God provides for us just where we are at the moment. I’m glad this post met you where you are. May you feel His love and comforting touch surrounding you today. #HopePrevails

  8. Reply

    Is It Grief Or Depression? | Dr. Michelle Bengtson

    […] For the remainder of the story and for the signs and symptoms to watch for when grief progresses into depression, join me at MareeDee.com. […]

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