Grief and depression share many symptoms, and it isn't always easy to tell them apart. However, one clear distinction is that grief is more like a rollercoaster ride involving a variety of feelings and both good and bad days. The symptoms of grief can be mild and temporary, but with depression they are chronic and severe.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a diagnosis of major depression requires that the individual must have at least five of the following symptoms during the same two-week period and they must represent a departure from the way the person behaved previously:

  • Depressed mood, nearly every day for most of the day
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • Change in appetite or significant weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Unintentional and purposeless motions, such as foot tapping, wringing hands, or constantly walking around a room
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Reduced ability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death

Antidepressants can help depression, but as a general rule, they are not helpful in dealing with normal grief. By numbing the pain that must eventually be resolved, antidepressants can actually delay the mourning process. With grief, the best way to heal and to get back on an even keel is to fully feel and experience the feelings rather than trying to suppress or turn away from them.

By: Betty Holt


National Institute on Aging. Mourning the Death of a Spouse. Available at: Accessed:May 23, 2011.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 12 Sep 2011

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2013