Grieving & Depression: What’s the Difference?

By June 22, 2010 November 24th, 2014 Bereavement, Depression

A significant loss impacts upon our lives on several levels: physically, emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally and spiritually.

Here are some examples of healthy grief reactions:

  • Physical: muscle weakness, shortness of breath, lack of energy
  • Emotional: sadness, anger, guilt, relief, anxiety
  • Cognitive: disbelief, confusion, sense of presence of deceased
  • Behavioral: sleep/appetite disturbance, social withdrawl
  • Spiritual: lack of meaning in life, why?

These symptoms range from mild to severe in healthy grieving. Grieving can last for a year or more. The intensity and duration of the mourning process is determined by the nature of the loss and the significance of the relationship to the deceased.

“Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired, eating when you are hungry, or sneezing when your nose itches. It’s nature’s way of healing a broken heart.” – Doug Manning

Grief is often referred to as a reactive depression. This term can be confusing. When we hear the word depression we envision feelings, behaviors and thoughts, which are maladaptive and unhealthy. However, grieving is not depression in the clinical sense.

Individuals diagnosed with clinical depression or someone who has a history of depression still need to grieve. However, often they are afraid to do sobecause they think they will worsen their depressive symptoms. Actually, suppressing grief reactions can result in an exacerbation of depressive symptoms.

Grieving complicates depression
Depression complicates grieving

Grief reactions and clinical depression have similar symptoms. Here are a few differences as proposed by J. Schneider (1984).


  • The loss is recognized by the bereaved
  • Mood shifts quickly from sadness to more usual states in the same day
  • Open anger and hostility
  • Weeping
  • Variable restrictions of pleasure

In summary, we all need to grieve a significant loss. If we don’t, we are at risk of developing clinical depression or worsening depressive symptoms. If you have been diagnosed with clinical depression or if you have a history of depression, don’t deprive yourself of the right to grieve. Don’t be afraid to feel what you feel. Your feelings make you human.

“If I am unable to identify what is causing me to feel continually disturbed, I’ll talk it out with someone who can help me gain perspective on my feelings. There is no need for me to live with feelings of anxiety. By getting help, I can feel clearer and freer and more directed.” – Carol Staudache


  • The loss is not recognized by the bereaved or is seen as punishment
  • Low mood states continue from day to day and there is a constant state of depletion
  • Absence of externally directed anger and hostility
  • Difficulty in weeping or in controlling weeping
  • Persistent restrictions of pleasure

Please consult a qualified health care professional to assess your individual needs.

Author Virginia L. Walford

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