The Difference Between Grief and Depression

Rear view of son and elderly father sitting together at home. Son caring for his father, putting hand on his shoulder, comforting and consoling him. Family love, bonding, care and confidence

October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. Often, grieving gets confused with depression – and they are not the same thing. It’s important to know the difference so appropriate support can be provided.

What is grief?

Grief is pain that accompanies a loss that can feel all-encompassing. Grief usually follows the loss of a loved one and may be accompanied with feelings of confusion and grief. Grief is not limited to the loss of people; for example, job loss, divorce, moving, retirement, or becoming “empty nesters” are other events that may trigger grief.

What is depression?

Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. Sadness and loss of interest in activities is often part of it. In addition to leading to emotional and physical problems, it can also reduce a person’s ability to work or function at home. There are several different types of depression.  For example, someone with depression might experience periods of unusual energy,  or happiness.

How are grief and depression alike?

Grief and depression have many of the same signs. In fact, grief and depression can occur at the same time. Here are the typical overlapping symptoms:

  • Deep sadness
  • Poor sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anger or irritability

How are grief and depression different?

Despite some similarities, there are fundamental and significant differences between grief and depression.

Duration and circumstance: Grief tends to decrease over time and may change based on the situation or triggers (like a deceased loved one’s birthday). Depression is usually present no matter what the circumstance and is ongoing.

Company and activity: People grieving often wish to see and spend time with their loved one again. And, over time, they will open up to more social interactions. People with depression usually do not want do anything or see anyone, regardless of the connection.

Treatment and care: Grief is a continuation of love and is expected to occur after a loss. Every person grieves differently; time, therapy, and/or support groups can help individuals carry their grief. Depression is an illness, just like any other illness. Recovery from depression may require therapy and support groups, as well as medications like antidepressants.

It’s important to note that grief can lead to depression.

Regardless of whether it’s grief or depression, seeking professional care can be beneficial. Mental health is part of everyone’s overall health and quality of life. October is a good time to check in with yourself and find help if needed.

Nationwide help for suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress is available by calling or texting the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor with questions about your mental or physical health.

Sources: APA; VeryWell Mind; Healthline; Pathways Health; Psychology Today; NIMH

Categories: Mental health