Is This Grief or Am I Depressed?


BY: Laurie Mason MSSA, LISW-S

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

G​rief encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors and feelings that are common after the death of a loved one. Many of the normal grief reactions may seem like characteristics of depression, but grief and depression are very different.

Let’s look at some of the differences between grief and depression. In the grieving person, moods shift from sadness to more normal states rapidly. Variations in mood, appetite, and activity level are often experienced within the same day or week. However, with depression, the person experiences a constant state of sadness, loss of appetite, sleep problems, or absence of energy.

Another difference seen is in the expression of anger. Anger is expressed openly, often with a great deal of hostility in the grieving person. It is usually directed at someone or something. With the depressed person, it is difficult to express anger and the anger is not usually directed at a person or thing, but more generalized.

When a loved one has died, dreams and fantasy in the bereaved are often
vivid and clear, usually involving the deceased. Sleep disturbances are
periodic difficulties in getting to sleep or staying asleep. The depressed
person has little access to their dreams. The fantasy they experience is selfdestructive in nature and they may experience severe insomnia and early
morning waking.

There are also differences in the ways grieving and depressed persons respond to other people. Grieving people respond well to warmth and
reassurance, while those who are depressed are often unresponsive to most types of support or encouragement.

One of the main distinctions between grief and depression involves self-esteem. People who have experienced the death of a loved one
do not regard themselves less because of the loss. There may be guilt over
thinking they have not adequately provided for their loved one but this
is usually felt for only a brief period of time. With depression, people experience a general lack of selfworth. The guilt they feel is an overall sense of self-blame often unrelated to a specific event. Freud characterized it
best when he stated that in grief, the world looks empty, but in depression,
the person feels empty. Although grief and depression may seem to mimic one another, there is a definite difference between the two. Knowing these differences can normalize the grief reaction. These reactions are a direct response to the death of a loved one and the feelings will pass given time and support.

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