Grief is a response to loss. A person may feel intense and overwhelming sadness when someone close to them dies. Sometimes, this sadness may worsen into complicated grief or become depression.
A person who is grieving may feel depressed. However, there are clear differences between the state of grief and clinical depression. Grief may develop into depression if it continues over a prolonged period and causes physical symptoms, such as effects on sleep and appetite.
This article explores depression after a loved one’s death.
After the death of someone close to them, a person may experience grief. This may cause feelings of intense sadness. Experts suggest people may expect feelings of grief to lessen within
However, symptoms of grief may sometimes persist or worsen into a clinically significant condition. These conditions include complicated grief, which doctors call prolonged grief disorder, and depression. A person with underlying depression may also notice worsening symptoms after the loss of a loved one.
While people who are grieving may express that they feel depressed, there is a clear difference between grief and depression. Grief and prolonged grief disorder include classic symptoms of yearning and sorrow that are not specific to depression.
Additionally, a doctor cannot treat grief with medications, but depression treatments are highly effective.
Learn more about the difference between depression and grief.
Grief and depression are not the same condition, but they can exist at the same moment in a person’s life.
With grief, symptoms appear in waves and may coincide with good feelings from pleasant memories of the past. With depression, symptoms last throughout the day and for a minimum of 2 weeks.
Grief is a natural response after a loved one’s death. Depending on the severity of grief, people may experience symptoms such as:
- separation anxiety
- obsessive dwelling on the past
- apprehension for the future
People usually have preserved self-esteem when grieving. However, with depression, feelings of worthlessness are common.
Grief does not always occur when someone dies. People may experience feelings of grief when they regret losing something or have remorse for something they have done. It can also occur when a person feels sorry about a mishap that has happened to them.
Depression is a clinical diagnosis based on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).
Doctors also call depression major depressive disorder. People with depression experience symptoms that impact how they feel, think, and act.
These symptoms range from mild to severe. They must last at least 2 weeks and include:
- a loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- feeling sad
- changes in appetite
- difficultly sleeping or sleeping too much
- low energy levels
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- trouble concentrating
- thoughts of suicide
Other medical conditions may cause symptoms similar to depression but not grief.
A doctor evaluating symptoms of depression may check to make sure they are not missing another important diagnosis, such as:
Knowing the difference between grief and depression is important to ensure a person gets the proper support they need.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
- trouble sleeping
- difficulties with concentration
- feelings of:
Stress resulting from grief may also cause other signs, such as:
Experts suggest that extreme stress can cause a disruption of cholesterol plaques in coronary arteries and lead to blood vessel constriction. People sometimes have heart attacks due to grief because of this increased risk.
When symptoms of grief seem intense and last longer than usual, it may be best for a person to speak with a doctor. If grief has triggered clinical depression, prompt treatment may result in a quicker recovery. Waiting to seek help may lead a person to develop chronic depression.
Prolonged grief disorder is usually treatable with therapy, but depression may require medication.
Doctors refer to complicated grief as prolonged grief disorder.
While grief is a natural response to death, a small group of people may feel intense grief that persists for longer than is typical. Their symptoms may prevent them from moving on with their lives after the death of a loved one.
Doctors may diagnose prolonged grief disorder if the deceased person passed away at least 1 year ago in the case of adults or 6 months ago for children.
According to the current clinical criteria, the grieving person must also display at least three of the following
- intense loneliness
- feeling that life is meaningless or as though a part of themselves has died
- a sense of numbness or disbelief about the death
- trouble reintegrating socially
- an avoidance of reminders of the person who has died
- intense emotions, such as anger, bitterness, and sorrow
Learn more about complicated grief.
Doctors can help people who are grieving, particularly those who have underlying depression. They may temporarily adjust medications to support a person with depression who is mourning the loss of a loved one.
Grief counselors have specific training in death and loss. Therapists may also have specialized training in grief counseling. Additionally, some funeral homes may provide support to loved ones.
Depending on where a person lives, they may be able to find a local bereavement support group. Bereavement groups can provide social support and connection to people in similar situations. People may feel less alone while grieving when involved in a support group.
Some grief support groups include:
- The Compassionate Friends
- The AARP Grief and Loss Resources
- The National Widower’s Organization
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Mental health resources
Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.
Grief can become prolonged grief disorder or trigger depression in some people. Knowing the difference between grief and depression can help people find the support they need to help them cope with bereavement.