It can be difficult to separate grief from depression because the symptoms are largely the same. Australian researchers have now investigated the differences between grief and depression.

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 This article is based on a news item from and on a summary from a new, Australian study on differences between grief and depression.

Difficult to distinguish between grief and depression

In practice, there are many similarities between grief and depression. writes:

Hopelessness, constant depression and self-hatred are core symptoms of depression. Deep grief can involve some of the same emotions.

Therefore, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two conditions, even for doctors and psychiatrists.

Recently, Australian researchers have examined the difference between depression and grief. They interviewed 125 people who have experienced both grief and depression, in order to investigate how these patients experience any differences between the conditions.


Grief is experienced as a natural reaction to something that comes from outside

Of the subjects, as many as 87 per cent thought that there was a clear difference in how grief is experienced versus having a depression. 

The article authors themselves discuss the findings of the study such:

Unlike grief, depression involved feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, the condition felt like something infinite, and it was associated with a lack of control.

In addition, having a depression was different from experiencing grief through being characterized by an inner focus, the experience feels more serious and stressful than the grief, is more characterized by physical symptoms, and often one can not find any external reason why one should have a depression.

Grief differs from this in that the person experiences their difficult feelings as more understandable, as caused by an external reason: a loss experience. Grief is thus characterized by an external focus; there is something "out there" that has made it so difficult emotionally.


Depression can be triggered by grief

At the same time, there are also smooth transitions between grief and depression, for example with regard to the fact that grief in some cases can trigger a depression. refers to a Danish study of just this, where people with depression were interviewed in relation to grief experiences prior to depression. 

Two thirds of the patients had had such an experience. It is very often a difficult experience that triggers the first depression, writes

It is also pointed out that previous depression is a particular risk factor for getting new depressions, and that one should therefore be especially vigilant if a person with expericence with depression experiences a large loss - i.e. if this person gets a new grief experience.

In complicated cases, grief and depression can practically turn out to be closely related, and it has also been shown that some people experience  complicated grief. 

Psychologist Atle Dyregrov has written well about this condition, and the importance of seeking professional help for such a condition.

Nevertheless, the new Australian study provides significant insight into the characteristics that separate grief from depression.