Are Grief and Depression The Same Thing?

March 30, 2021

The question is often raised after someone loses a loved one, whether they are depressed.

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to a loss of any kind.  It is very important to understand the differences between the two to ensure that the correct treatment is received.

Grief is unique and individual to everyone, but the following symptoms might be experienced in common:

  • Lack of sleep or increased sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Explosive anger episodes
  • Isolation
  • Excessive crying
  • Excessive use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Feelings of guilt or regret

Depression and grief share similar symptoms, but each is a different experience.  Further, making the distinction is important for several reasons.  With depression, getting a diagnosis and seeking treatment can be literally lifesaving.  At the same time, experiencing grief due to a significant loss is not only normal but also can ultimately be very healing.

Gradually and after a certain amount of time that differs for everyone, these feelings do subside.

Depression is a clinical condition that can become truly problematic if left untreated.  Depression needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional and to make that diagnosis, an individual must meet a specific number of the different qualifying criteria.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • A feeling of worthlessness
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Significant weight gain or weight loss

Although there do appear to be many overlapping similarities between the two conditions, they are vastly different.

Diagnosing someone with a mental illness is an extremely delicate process and can be dangerous if a misdiagnosis occurs.  If someone is depressed after a grieving event, it is totally normal and expected.

However, if the individual feels as though these symptoms have been persisting for far too long, they should seek help.

Some of the things you can ask yourself include:

  • “Have I been mourning this death, or have I restricted myself to grieving?”
  • Do you have a difficult time expressing your grief outside of yourself? If so, why?
  • If you have permitted yourself to grieve, what are the ways you have done this?
  • Who or what has been helpful in your grieving process?


Grief and depression differ, in that, grief tends to decrease over time and occurs in waves that are triggered by thoughts or reminders of its cause.

In other words, the person may feel relatively better at times.  We know that grief comes in waves.  You can be up and happy, enjoying having your family and friends around, and then suddenly become extremely quiet or even start crying.

However, triggers such as the birthday of a deceased loved one or attending a wedding after having finalized a divorce could cause the feelings to resurface more strongly.

Depression, on the other hand, tends to be more persistent and pervasive.

If you are wondering whether you are experiencing grief or depression, it is important to talk to your doctor and/or therapist, who can help you make the distinction.

If your symptoms are related to the normal grieving of a loss, they will improve when you tackle your much-needed grief work.  Grief is our body’s way of working through difficult and traumatic experiences.

Remember, every person will grieve differently and there is no right or wrong way to do it.  Talk openly with your grief specialist or someone you trust and remember that grief is not a sign of weakness and you are not broken.

Likewise, depression is an illness similar to any other.  Reaching out for help when you experience depression symptoms is a sign of strength and can help get you on the road to effective treatment.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.  If you or a loved one are in immediate danger call, 911.

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