What is the Difference Between Grief and Depression?
Grief is a powerful – and natural – human emotion. When individuals mourn a loss, like the death of a loved one, the ending of an important relationship, or the diagnosis of a terminal illness, it is human nature to feel sad and a great sense of loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, mourning can last for months or even years, sometimes making it difficult to know if a grieving process will pass on its own – or if it has become clinical depression and requires professional treatment.
Read on to learn more about the difference between mourning and depression.
What is Depression?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines a depressive episode as a period in one’s life of at least two weeks, during which they exhibit the requisite symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). The symptoms of MDD include:
• Low mood
• An inability to feel joy
• Difficulty concentrating
• Significant weight changes when not dieting
• Insomnia or hypersomnia
• A sense of guilt
• A sense of worthlessness
What is Grief?
The symptoms of grief can look a lot like depression; however, they often present in stages. According to Psych Central, there are five typical stages of grief.
• Denial and shock – In this stage, individuals try to pretend that the loss did not happen. This is part of the process of trying to absorb information and make sense of what has happened.
• Anger – As individuals try to process the loss, anger can become a common response.
• Bargaining – In this phase, individuals may feel so sad that they try to bargain to regain a sense of control and feel better. For example, they may promise to never do a particular behavior again if it will stop a loved one from being sick or dying. Eventually, they realize that there is nothing they can do to change the situation.
• Intense sadness – Inevitably, people who suffer a loss realize that bargaining will not change the situation and begin to feel intense sadness. This can be one of the most difficult stages of grief and feel like depression.
• Acceptance – This phase happens when individuals accept the reality of the situation. They still may feel sad and a great sense of loss, but the other feelings of denial and anger are less intense. They also may find themselves able to feel joy and happiness, at least during portions of the day. Eventually, they are able to find humor in memories of their loved one and even enjoy talking about them. Some people describe it as a fog lifting, and they are able to feel lighter again.
Depression vs. Grief
Grief and bereavement are intense emotional reactions to a significant loss. They can share many of the aspects of depression, leading individuals to wonder when grief ends, and depression begins.
The primary difference between depression and grief is how long the symptoms last. While there is no set timeline for grief, depression tends to last longer, whereas grief is an emotional response to a significant loss. As a result, grief often lessens over time while depression persists, requiring diagnosis and treatment by a healthcare professional.
Another difference is that grief is caused by a specific event, while depression can have other causes such as genetics, temperamental inclination, childhood environment, significant life events, trauma, and the existence of a medical condition or another psychiatric disorder.
How to Treat Depression
Grief usually lessens over time, with individuals feeling it in waves as memories and experiences remind them of their loss. In contrast, depression is usually persistent and often requires professional treatment.
When depression is diagnosed, first-line treatments involve therapy and medication.
Therapy involves speaking with a mental health professional to better understand one’s experiences and increase wellbeing. Forms of psychotherapy commonly used to treat depression include psychodynamics, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
Support groups for patients and their primary care providers have also been shown to offer relief.
As for medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) might be prescribed. Though psychopharmacology is a generally effective treatment, it can cause side effects such as weight gain or sexual dysfunction.
Also, many patients are found to be treatment resistant, meaning that medication does not bring sufficient relief for their depression symptoms.
In those situations, clinicians may prescribe a noninvasive medical device treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), or Deep TMS™.
TMS, which has been FDA cleared to treat depression since 2008, uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate the neural activity of brain structures. Deep TMS is a newer form of TMS, which addresses targeting concerns raised by traditional TMS, as it reaches deeper and broader areas of the brain. Deep TMS is clinically demonstrated to be a safe and effective treatment for depression and other mental health disorders like anxious depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and smoking addiction.
Deep TMS is a short in-office treatment that does not require anesthesia. Patients can drive themselves immediately after a session.
If you or a loved one are experiencing grief and are concerned about depression, talk to a healthcare provider.