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When Grief Turns Into Depression

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.” – President Abraham Lincoln

These words of President Lincoln illustrate the profound sadness that we can experience over the course of a lifetime. Losing a loved one or dealing with a traumatic situation can understandably cause such feelings of sadness and despondency. But when does this grief settle into depression? And how can a person distinguish between the two?

Grief by itself is not a “disorder”; it is a human experience caused by a traumatic experience of loss of a loved one. While speaking with a therapist or counselor may help a person work through these emotions, grief does not require treatment. Common symptoms of grief include sadness, tearfulness, sleep disturbance, decreased socialization, and decreased appetite.

During the first few weeks following the grief-inducing event, it may be hard to distinguish between grief and depression from observations alone. However, overtime grief may evolve into clinical depression.

Clinicians often use the following guidelines to differentiate between non-clinical depression (general feelings of sadness that can be caused by grief) and clinical depression.

  • Severity (extreme feelings of hopelessness including suicidal thoughts)
  • Duration (most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks)
  • Pathology (clinically significant distress or impairment on a person’s daily function)

Because they are distinct conditions, grief and clinical depression can occur together, further confusing the differentiation between the two. Most importantly, however, there is clinical evidence that concurrent depression may delay or impair the resolution of grief. This means that depression can interfere with a person’s natural ability to overcome grief, and continue to perpetuate the cycle.

It is therefore imperative for individuals struggling with depression caused by grief to seek professional help.

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression caused by grief, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. In addition to physical, mental, and emotional treatment of depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE offers Christian support to address the spiritual components and struggles in a person’s life that affect grief and depression. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a depression recovery specialist today.


Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Turing Your Down into Up: A Realistic Plan for Healing from Depression.

Other sources:

Distinguishing Grief, Complicated Grief, and Depression. Medscape. Dec 26, 2014.

Pies, R. (2011). The Two Worlds of Grief and Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2015, from