What’s the Difference Between Grief and Depression?

Grief and depression are two different experiences, which also have many similarities. Depression is listed as one of the stages of grief, so aren’t they the same? How you approach treating grief and depression is different, even though they share many of the same treatments. There are many ways to grieve, including feeling depressed, but true depression requires different treatment than grief.  Please keep reading to learn more about the differences between grief and depression and ways to treat both conditions. 

Grief vs Depression: What are the Similarities?

Grief and a major depression disorder (MDD) share similar symptoms such as:

  • Deep, profound sadness
  • Poor sleep or insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts, it’s ok and normal for either grief or MDD. Please get in touch with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 to talk to a trained counselor. (If you or someone else is in imminent danger, call 911 right away.)

An important note: grief, like other significant stressors, can trigger a major depressive episode. 

Grief vs Depression: What are the Differences?

Despite the similarities, there are some significant differences between grief and depression. One key difference is how these conditions are felt. Grief tends to be cyclical and can be held at bay by positive experiences, like being with close friends. 

If grief comes in waves, depression tends to be a pervasive experience that permeates someone’s whole world. There isn’t any relief in the face of positive experiences. And while with grief, there is a longing to be close to the one who passed, someone in a depressive state more likely wants isolation. 

How to Deal with Grief and Depression

While there is a great deal of overlap for treating grief and depression, how you use these tools will differ based on your diagnosis. If possible, talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Knowing what you are dealing with will guide you to effective treatment more quickly. And, there is often a relief in knowing, even if it can be scary to find out. 

  • Medication

Many medications can be helpful for the treatment of grief and depression. These include SSRIs (ex., Prozac), SNRIs (ex., Effexor), and tricyclic antidepressants (ex., Elavil). For a person in the throes of deep, intense grief, their doctor might prescribe them one of these medications to help regulate their intense emotional experience. Using antidepressants during great stress is a common approach to maintaining mental health.

  • Psychotherapy

Therapy is commonly used to help with both grief and depression. Doctors recommend using therapy along with antidepressants. Many studies show combinations of psychotherapy and medication to be quite helpful at relieving symptoms and preventing a relapse. 

A healthy therapy relationship provides a safe place for you to express your thoughts and feelings. It can act like a pressure relief valve, which is helpful for acute grief and depression. Your therapist will likely be able to teach you healthy coping skills, which, when brought into your daily life, can help ease your symptoms. Other therapists have tools like EMDR, which is helpful to ease traumas out of the nervous system. For those with depression, therapy is also beneficial for treating symptoms and learning ways to support yourself during a depressive period. 

  • Support Groups

Support groups for grief are widely used and a helpful method of finding support during difficult times of grief. Grief groups are a good way of being around people who understand more of what you’re going through but without any expectations beyond your presence. Yes, they likely want all members to share, but if you don’t feel like talking, you can still show up and receive support without actively participating. Or, if you want to talk and share about your grief or the person you lost, these groups are a good forum. 

Support groups are also helpful for depression. Many of the above reasons ring true for those with depression, but there are also distinct benefits of support groups for depression. One of those is the ability to practice building relationships and healthy communication with others. This will support healthier relationships in the outside world, which can help ease depressive symptoms. 

  • Movement

Movement is helpful for both grief and depression. Many studies show that a wide range of movements supports healthy “grief outcomes” and includes martial arts, yoga, walking, rugby, and running. Activities with elements of play or adventure also seem to offer added benefits. 

Movement and exercise are well-established treatments for depression. While it is not a standalone cureall, it is demonstrated that it can relieve a medium to a large number of depressive symptoms. Exercise also helps prevent a relapse of symptoms. 

  • Time in Nature 
Nature is healing for the soul, whether you have depression or have suffered a loss. (Or both) Walking through a park or hiking through the hills helps you feel connected to life…a little bit more. (Plus, the sunshine is good for you.) And, if you’re in grief, there may be a special place in nature where you laid your loved one to rest. Mark your loved one’s final resting place on Ecorial’s Memory Map and join a global community honoring their departed loved ones.
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