Am I experiencing grief or depression?

11 answers | Last updated: May 14, 2015
A fellow caregiver asked...

What's the difference between grief and depression?

Expert Answers

Martha Clark Scala has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 1992, with offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, California. She regularly writes about grief and loss, the necessity of self-care, and substance abuse. Her e-newsletter, "Out on a Limb," is available to subscribers through her website.

It's easy to confuse grief with depression. The reason for this is that a number of symptoms of bereavement -- the grief commonly experienced when someone close to you has died or is dying -- are the same as those reported by people who are clinically depressed.

They include the following:

  • Sadness, melancholy, or despair

  • Low energy or fatigue

  • Weepiness or persistent tears

  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns

  • Poor concentration

  • Guilt or hopelessness

  • Unbidden happy and sad memories

Among the bereaved, these symptoms are usually mild or temporary. But these same symptoms may be more chronic or severe among those who are clinically depressed.

Clinical depression is formally defined as a mood disorder characterized by one or more major depressive episodes -- that is, at least two weeks of a depressed mood or loss of interest accompanied by at least four additional symptoms of depression, as described above.

It is important to distinguish between feeling depressed versus clinical depression. Often, people experiencing deep sadness will say something such as, "I'm so depressed." In this case, depressed could be replaced by any number of words that describe varying degrees of sadness: sad, melancholy, blue, bummed-out, brokenhearted. But this is quite different from true clinical depression.

However, if you're grieving and suffering the following additional symptoms, you're more than likely clinically depressed or in the midst of a major depressive episode:

  • Worthlessness

  • Exaggerated guilt

  • Suicidal thoughts or plans

  • Low self-esteem

  • Powerlessness

  • Helplessness

  • Exaggerated hopelessness

  • Agitation or restlessness

  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities

  • Exaggerated fatigue

If you see yourself in this list of symptoms, consider getting professional help from a grief therapist or other psychiatric counselor. The irony is that your symptoms may make it difficult to get motivated to get support, but try your best. You're more likely to get relief from your symptoms if you pursue treatment aggressively.

Community Answers

Kathy55 answered...

I lost my 28 year old son 2 years ago,3 days before Christmas. My grief only gets worse as time go's by. He had Diabetes and we didn't know it. I saw the signs but I guess I just didn't want to believe it because of his age. So the guilt I feel is so overwhelming I constantly think of all the things I should have done so he would still be here with me.I've tried therapy and I an taking medications, but neither have helped very much.

A fellow caregiver answered...


We are all not meant to be here forever. Cherish the good memories of him not the passing. He loved and was loved in return. THAT is what matters. Focus on all the happiness he brought to you and your family. Too much time wasted, too much of what you could have done....his memory should be of all the good times, not the bad. I lost my Mom 3 weeks son came up to me while I was crying and said "why is everyone so sad? Nanny is so much happier than she ever could have been here" and having said that...realizing that...focusing on that, we will get through and you would too. I am sure your son would not be the least bit happy about you not moving on and living your life. Talk to him everyday, he is always with you. I pray that you will find the strength in God's promise that we will all be together again. God Bless you

Ryannmcgrath answered...

I know all too well about the "Guilt" It is so difficult to live with everyday.. I missed a lot of signs,signs I should have seen and just didn't.. I learned that I have to move forward and try everyday to find a reason to wake up and get out of bed.. I know I will be with my loved one again, and only time stands between that..I talk to her everyday and keep her close to my heart.. You will see your son again, in the mean time he is with people who love him, he is smiling and he is saying MOM STOP..Cause its hurting him to see you like this!

Cpearce answered...

I am so sorry those that have lost their children. What a horrbile experience no parent wants to face. My thoughts and prayers are with you all. There are no words to say to comfort you I am sure, however, I will make a committment to pray for you, for God to comfort you during your time of Sorrow and sadness. At some point to make a difference in someones life in your childs name. WHen you get to that point. God will put someone in your path for you to comfort from your own experience. God Bless my friend. From one mother to another.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have no doubt that we will all be joined together after death, but at least the dead are in a better place. It hurts a lot just to see your loved one slowly going away, wish I knew for sure what is in her mind when you are talking to her or him and they drift away. You get a lot of yes, I hear your answers, but they cannot repeat the simple words you have just discussed, I didn't realize there was grief before death. Love and contentment to everyone!

Cherryt answered...

My father past away a few years ago.I feel alot of grief and regert for not tell him how i feel.We had a hard life and i had a bad child hood.My father drank alot and wasnt to nice to my mother.I was scared alot.He stoped drink move out of the house with my mother hair dresser.I never told him a forgave him and loved him. Love you dad and rest in peace. THeresa xoxoxo

Dmj answered...

"I didn't realize there was grief before death." stated by Anonymous. My mom has Alzheimer's and the past year has been very difficult for all of us. I manage her care and have been seeing a counselor to deal with the stress and grief I feel. With any long term illness there is grief before the person dies. Grief is a process and with a long illness it seems to get more drawn out. It has helped me to learn about the process so I can better handle this very difficult situation. I recommend seeking professional help to anyone carrying a similiar situation. Blessing to all especially those that have lost their children. Peace to you.

A fellow caregiver answered...

grief for a son splits a mothers soul in two. depression splits a mother from her family and other humans. guilt is another way for one to feel sorry for themselves. when i first heard that i said, ouch man. that's not true. but upon introspection, i found it to be so. i suffer from clinical depression. because i am grieving the recent loss of my son, i did not recognize i was depressed until it was pointed out to me by a dear friend. i am now in therapy, taking medication, and am able to see how far i have come and how far i have to go. feeling guilty and dragging your sons grief around is not a good way to honor your son nor your living family. i wanted to die when my son did. i wanted to die instead of him. my daughter brought someting to my attention; my daughter has a right to her mothers love and joy. my grandchildren have a right to a happy loving grammy. i am not the only one that matters. sometimes it is better to understand than be understood. i need to put myself out of the negative rut. even if i need a ladder to get up to the bottom, i have to do it. since i am aive, i might as well make it as enjoyable as i can. another difference between grief and depression is grief does lessen with time if you learn the grieving process. clinical depression doesn't get better. i love my son with all of my heart and soul. it has been 9 months. i could not move beyond the the depth of the pain because i was clinically depressed. now that i am willing to make the effort to live a more joyous life. for me, that means whatever it takes. going to counceling, taking medication, and for myself, a self-help group, my soul is slowly mending. i will smile once for me and once for doug. good luck

Helenl answered...

My sadness started July 06. My Mom was diagnosed with Lung Cancer and a week later my husband had a major stroke. One coming home from the hospital on going. My parents had been separated for approx 34 yrs but , my Dad was living on the ground floor of our duplex in a studio apt. he had already had several bouts with different cancers and quad valve replacement but all and all was pretty healthy when everyone else was sick and needed my attention. My mom was doing well and my husband was moving long. Then the two of them took a turn for the worse at the same time. To make this story a little shorter my Mom had several close turns with death but I brought her home to her apt which was above mine with hospital bed etc. Her friends visited whenever I took a LOA with my husbands approval to delve in our savings to pay the bills and there up and down the steps I went between the 2 people I Loved the most sharing meals, sleep, wake time an giving all the meds out. My Mom passed in April 2009, in her home with her daughters. Louis had eventually been moved to the studio apt for easy access because of mini stroke nerved damage in his feet and everything else that comes with this an his many other problems. I got him out of rehab July30,2012 I had his little place decorated for Christmas as we joked about Christmas in July, little did I know 1 week to the day he would die August 6, 2012, He had his Christmas with tree and everything. My father because of a 2nd colon problem now was wearing the bag very frail but as smart as a whip. He hated being in a nursing home we visited an called as much as possible in fact i was to have lunch with him on May 4th,2012, but God had other plans my Pop died at midnight of the 4th, just 12 hours before our lunch date his heart he was 5 months 2 day to celebrating his 90th bday..... I can't get rid of the tears the heartache and there now in this 3 resident bldg is just me and my fox terrier .............We need to move, these 3 people were my family I never could have children it's as if I buried my children , no more kisses, hugs, holidays, talks, laughs even yelling, how do you fix this please someone I'm in therapy, group, meds trying to find new home, loss job cause I couldn't be around people. Wishing all of you the best in your lives.

Caring community answered...

Earlier today, a member of our community posted a sad and disturbing comment on this page that has now been removed. We have taken action to assist this indivdiual in seeking help offline as soon as possible.