Depression is one of the most misused words in the English language. It often appears in casual conversation as though it were an everyday phenomenon. People say, "I'm depressed over the C I got on my test," or "I'm depressed because Ned didn't call," or "I'm depressed about my chances of getting into a good college." Because the word is used so casually it becomes difficult to get people to hear and understand when you are really depressed--say after the death of someone close to you.

Do you feel empty inside, devoid of interest in anything? Do you wish you didn't have to get up in the morning? Are you unable to concentrate? Do you no longer care how you dress or how you look? Do you want to spend all your time in your room? Do you refuse to take phone calls? Has music become depressing to you? Have you lost your appetite? Are you getting behind in your school work? Are you having difficulty sleeping--or sleeping too much?

Feeling depressed is part of the grieving process...like the healing of a wound; you don't have to feel guilty about it.

When a loved one dies, people who feel like this are experiencing what is called "bereavement depression." It's real depression, but it's different from other kinds of depression in that its cause is immediately apparent and its duration is likely to be a lot shorter. Of course, for you right now, it may be hard to see anything changing, and the prospect of feeling better may seem pretty remote.

Feeling depressed is part of the grieving process, which we all have to go through when we have suffered a great loss, like the death of a loved one. It's somewhat like the healing of a wound; you don't have to feel guilty about it. On the other hand, it's important that you not allow your sorrow to immobilize your life since, no matter what you are thinking right now, you still have a life to live.

Empty as you may feel right now, angry or fearful or guilt-ridden as you may be, you clearly don't want to go on feeling miserable. Here and now there are some things you can do to help yourself.

The first thing you can do is talk about the person who died. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel once you do this. Talk with your parents, your siblings, and your friends--in any order you wish. Don't just talk about how your loved one died; talk about the good times you had and the bad, too. Encourage others to tell about what they remember. If people seem to be tiring of the topic, let them know how important it is to you. If they seem to be burning out, find others to talk to. Your counselor at school might be one.

When people are grieving, it's often as if they were lost in space. If you find yourself confused, having difficulty getting things done, I suggest that you put yourself on a schedule. Write it down and pin it to the wall--a certain time to get up, a time to get dressed, a time to do your homework. But make the schedule manageable so that you will feel you have accomplished something by the end of the day.

Make up a scrapbook of pictures, newspaper clippings, or other memorabilia of your loved one's life. Or put together a collage of photos from magazines and newspapers that tell the story of that person's life.

Write a poem, compose a song, or do a painting or sculpture dedicated to his or her life.

If there are home videos of the person who died, you could assemble your own documentary of scenes from his or her life. I know of one young man who did this with footage shot by his grandfather, a rank amateur, and the result was a work of art that is now treasured by everyone in the family.

Expressing your love in some such way, bringing your feelings out into the open, should help relieve your depression and enable you to start thinking about your own life and your own future.

What you don't want to do, is look for quick fixes that aren't fixes at all. I have worked with many teenagers who have turned to drugs, alcohol, or sexual promiscuity in search of relief, and without exception they have regretted it later. They have been embarrassed even to tell me about it.

There is also the possibility that the depression you are experiencing is not simply short-term. You could be caught up in a more serious, or "clinical" depression, and if so you may need help from a mental health professional. This is particularly important to consider if you have had serious depression in the past or if these symptoms continue for any length of time.

So is your depression of the short-term variety, or is it more serious? One way to judge this is how long it is enduring. Bereavement depression usually responds to the approaches I have mentioned within a week or two. If you are continuing to feel listless, lost in space, having trouble sleeping, getting behind in your studies, you probably need professional help. If you are thinking of yourself as worthless, without a future, and thinking dark thoughts about "ending it all," waste no time finding that help.

Depression is serious business, and sometimes otherwise healthy people need professional help to come out of it. Talk to your parents, consult your pastor or rabbi, or ask your school counselor to make the necessary arrangements. There may even be a group you could attend for grieving teens. Just know that you don't have to continue being depressed. No matter where you live or what your circumstances may be, there is help out there for you.

Do you have comments about this column, or questions you would like Helen to address in future columns? While she cannot respond personally to each message, Helen will select representative questions to answer in her weekly column. Send an email to: columnists@staff.beliefnet.com and be sure to include "Fitzgerald" in the subject line.

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