Understanding Grief vs Depression

Grieving the loss of a loved one is an emotional journey that affects each person differently. One common manifestation of grief is feelings of depression.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Jun 29, 2023
5 min read
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Included as a stage of grief, it almost normalizes the often intense feelings experienced during an episode of depression. 

Yet, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between grief and depression. They can share similarities yet require completely different approaches to healing. 

In this guide, we will explore the key differences, symptoms, and treatment options for grief and depression. Our grief support app is here to provide you with the tools and resources you need to navigate this complex emotional landscape.

Grief and Depression: Unraveling the Similarities and Differences 

When experiencing grief, it is normal to feel intense sadness, emotional pain, and even emotional numbness. These are common emotions associated with the loss of a loved one. However, it’s essential to distinguish between grief and clinical depression.

Grief is a natural response to loss, often characterized by a range of emotions that fluctuate over time. On the other hand, depression is a clinical condition that affects a person’s overall mental health and well-being. 

While grief typically emerges from the death of a loved one, depression can arise from various factors. These can include sometimes hard to pin down reasons like chemical imbalances in the brain. Depression does not always have a clear cut reason that can be linked to a cause like a lost loved one.

The Similarities Between Grief and Depression

Much more than a type of grief, depression has a serious impact on the quality of a person’s life and mental health. However, both depression and grief can share similarities in how they manifest in a person’s life. 

Both depression and grief can:

  • involve feelings of sadness, emptiness, and loss.
  • lead to changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and energy levels.
  • cause difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • result in a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed.
  • trigger feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or self-blame.
  • lead to social withdrawal and a sense of isolation.
  • manifest physical symptoms, such as headaches or digestive issues.
  • evoke intense emotional pain and a sense of hopelessness about the future.
  • disrupt daily functioning and impact relationships.
  • increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Recognizing Symptoms of Grief and Depression

To understand whether you are experiencing grief or depression, it is important to recognize the symptoms associated with each. 

Grief is commonly believed to progress through stages, such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, these stages are not linear and can vary in duration and intensity for each individual. It’s also important to remember that grief is a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one and intense feelings of sadness are to be expected.

Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder as it is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is classed as a “common and serious medical illness”. Symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe and can include: 

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • If these symptoms persist for an extended period, it may indicate clinical depression rather than grief.

Seeking Professional Help: When to Reach Out

Navigating grief alone can be challenging, and sometimes it’s essential to seek support from a mental health professional. They can help you distinguish between grief and depression, providing guidance tailored to your unique circumstances.

If your grief becomes prolonged and interferes with your ability to function in daily life, you may be experiencing prolonged grief disorder, also known as complicated grief. This condition is characterized by intense, persistent grief that lasts beyond the expected duration and may require specialized treatment.

Treatment Options: Healing Through Support

 While grief and depression may require different approaches, seeking support is crucial for both. For grief, support groups, counseling, and therapy can provide a safe space to express emotions and share experiences with others who understand. 

Our Grief Works support app offers a platform where you can connect with others who have experienced loss, access resources, and find professional help.

In the case of clinical depression, treatment options may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. A mental health professional will evaluate your symptoms and recommend the most appropriate course of action for your specific situation.


Understanding the distinction between grief and depression is vital when navigating the complex emotions that follow the loss of a loved one. 

While grief is a natural response to loss, depression is a clinical condition that may require professional intervention. Remember, seeking support is never a sign of weakness but rather a courageous step towards healing. 

Our grief support app is here to accompany you on this journey, offering tools, resources, and a caring community that understands your unique experience.

Find Grief Support with Grief Works by Illume

Getting support when grieving is essential, but it can be challenging.

The Grief Works app offers 24/7 support in the palm of your hand. The 28-session therapeutic course will help you process your grief at your own pace, and you’ll gain access to 30+ interactive tools to manage your emotions when you need them.

Connect with a community that cares for you, attend live monthly group sessions with Julia herself and have the option to text-chat to a counselor when needed.

Reach out for support now to take the first step towards soothing your pain, building your strength and healing from grief.