Grief is a natural reaction to loss. When someone we love dies or we experience another trauma, our minds need time to come to terms with the change and accept the reality of the loss. While grief is unique for everyone, most people go through common stages as they learn to cope. Of these stages of grief, depression tends to be the longest for most grievers.
The 5 Stages of Grief
According to the Kübler-Ross model, there are five stages of grief that people commonly go through after a significant loss:
- Denial – Refusing to accept the reality of the loss.
- Anger – Feeling angry about the loss or unfairness of it.
- Bargaining – Trying to negotiate to change or reverse the loss.
- Depression – Feeling intense sadness and pain after the loss.
- Acceptance – Coming to terms with the reality of the loss.
These stages don’t necessarily occur linearly, and people may move back and forth between stages as they adjust. However, depression tends to last the longest of these stages for most grievers.
Why Depression Takes the Longest in Grief
There are several reasons why the depression stage tends to be the most enduring:
- The pain of loss takes time to subside. Even as we intellectually understand and accept a loss, our hearts need more time to catch up. The raw pain of grief can persist for weeks or months.
- Life feels emptier and less joyful after loss. When someone important dies, the world can feel like a dull, meaningless place for a while until we adjust.
- Coping with changes in routine is difficult. Grief leaves voids in our regular habits and activities that can make us feel listless.
- The permanence of loss sinks in slowly. Even if we know logically that a loss can’t be undone, emotionally accepting the permanence and finality takes time.
- We encounter reminders and triggers of our grief. Photos, belongings, songs, or places may randomly evoke fresh sadness.
- Loneliness and isolation exacerbate depression. Grieving can be a lonely experience, especially after the initial support has faded.
- Some depression could be present before the loss. Pre-existing depression can worsen grief reactions.
As these realities of loss fully settle in our hearts and minds, it’s natural for profound sorrow to take hold. Even after we start to accept and adjust to the loss on one level, pangs of deep sadness still ambush us when we least expect it. For most grievers, this depressed phase lasts longer than any other grief stage.
How Long Does the Depression Stage Last?
There is no set timeline for how long depression lasts during grief. According to mental health experts, the depression phase of grieving typically lasts at least several weeks longer than other grief stages, but it’s different for each griever. Some factors that influence the duration include:
- The nature of the loss – Losing a spouse/child can take longer to recover from than other losses.
- How sudden or traumatic the loss was – Unexpected losses are harder to cope with.
- The griever’s support system – Good social support helps lessen depression faster.
- The griever’s resiliency – Some personalities adapt better than others.
- Circumstances of the griever’s life – Stressors and responsibilities can lengthen depression.
- Whether depression existed prior to grief – Pre-existing depression makes grief depression worse.
- Development of complicated grief – Protracted depression that prevents daily functioning.
With these factors in mind, here is an overview of how long the depression stage commonly lasts:
|2-3 months||Typical minimum duration for most grievers|
|6-12 months||Common moderate duration if loss was deeply felt|
|12+ months||Indicates complicated grief if depression persists this long|
However, each journey through grief is unique. It’s not unusual for depression to last for years after a deep loss like the death of a spouse if adequate support was not available. The key is not measuring oneself against a timeline but being attentive to symptoms that suggest professional help is needed.
Getting Through the Depression Stage
Here are some tips that can help a griever cope when the depression stage feels endless:
- Be patient and understanding with oneself. Healing takes time.
- Keep up daily routines to add stability and normalcy.
- Stay hydrated, nourished, and get sufficient rest.
- Talk about grief feelings regularly with empathetic confidants.
- Engage in mild physical activity to boost endorphins.
- Pursue enjoyable distractions like books, movies or hobbies.
- Consider grief counseling or support groups.
- Postpone major life decisions until grief begins lifting.
- Take time for self-care activities like massage, yoga or long baths.
- Verbalize appreciation for supportive loved ones.
Staying patient with oneself and utilizing coping strategies can help someone endure the long depression phase of grief. While the sadness may ebb and flow, it will gradually lift as acceptance grows.
When to Seek Professional Help
It’s appropriate to seek professional help if depression:
- Persists intensely for over 12 months.
- Prevents engagement in normal responsibilities.
- Involves thoughts of suicide or excessive guilt.
- Causes drastic appetite/sleep changes or physical problems.
- Feels completely debilitating with no improvement over time.
Talking to a doctor or grief counselor can facilitate healing when depression becomes immobilizing. Certain antidepressant medications or therapy methods can help overcome depression that worsens functioning.
Moving Toward Acceptance
Setting small goals, embracing support, and trying coping techniques all help the depression phase run its course. In time, most grievers naturally begin to experience moments of happiness, humor, or normalcy again. As we adjust to a new reality and start engaging in life, acceptance becomes possible even if sadness occasionally recurs. When we learn to integrate the loss into the fabric of our lives, depression gradually lifts even if the loss is never forgotten. Faith that the sun will shine again can help us endure the longest stage of grief until we reach the other side.
In summary, the depression phase of grieving tends to take the longest for most people mourning a major loss. While the duration of depression varies based on individual factors, it commonly persists for a minimum of 2-3 months and up to 12 months or more. With loving patience and support, even prolonged depression eventually gives way to acceptance as we learn to live with loss. Seeking counseling is advised, however, if depression becomes severely debilitating over an extended time. Just as winter eventually surrenders to spring, the gloom of grief depression will eventually lift again into light.