Grief VS Depression

Grief VS Depression

Grief and depression can be difficult to differentiate. These conditions are common in oncology patients and their families.  It is therefore beneficial to distinguish between these states in order to provide the best support and most effective interventions.


Grief is the natural, mental, emotional, and physical response to loss. It is not considered an illness or disorder.  Grief does not necessarily have to include a death.  Any loss or major change may lead to a grief experience.  This can include: major relationship changes, loss of a job, moving, or an illness. Patients and families experience a wide variety of emotions during these times. There are no time limits or exact guidelines for the grief experience


Depression is also a mental, emotional, and physical response, but does not necessarily have to have a loss associated with it. It is considered a disorder and an illness.  Depression has specific temporal guidelines necessary for diagnosis. Below is a summary of the differing characteristics of grief and depression.



  • A natural response to loss that causes distress
  • Waves of emotion (denial, numbness, fear, anger, grief, helplessness, hopelessness
  • The individual may experience some physical symptoms of distress (fatigue, increased or diminished sleep, restlessness, decrease or increase in appetite)
  • Guilt feelings related to losses such as inability to provide support to family, feeling they are a physical, emotional and/or financial burden
  • The individual normally maintains self esteem
  • Retains capacity to experience pleasure
  • May have passive desire for death
  • Pharmacotherapy for grief is the exception



  • Generalized distress (does not necessarily have a loss associated with it)
  • Constant unremitting feelings of sadness
  • Sleep, appetite, and energy effected
  • Pervasive feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of diminished self-worth
  • Unable to enjoy things that were formerly pleasurable
  • Suicidal ideation not uncommon
  • May require psychotherapy and/or pharmacotherapy