Grief or depression?

Originally Published: December 13, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 6, 2012
Share this
Dear Alice,

What is the difference between grief and major depression? A few months ago, my boyfriend died in a car accident. Lately, I have been very depressed, but I am not sure if it is just part of the normal grief process or if it is depression.

—Crying all the time

Dear Crying all the time,

There is no set process or time length for the grief one experiences after losing someone close. It's normal to experience grief for a year or even longer, especially when the death is sudden and unexpected. You need to allow yourself adequate time to process how you feel, without expecting or trying to force yourself to experience your grief in any set way. Grief is a normal path that often results in healing.

Grief and depression can often seem alike, especially to someone who is actively grieving. Grief encompasses different things for different people. You might notice physical or behavioral changes, recurrent thoughts about the person who died, tears, rage, and/or sadness. You might experience some, all, or none of these things. It is important to feel and acknowledge what you're going through in a way that you're comfortable with (and in a way that you don't harm yourself and/or others).

Reaching out is an important step in your healing. If you're worried or frightened of any feelings that you have, if you'd like to be able to talk about your emotions in a comforting environment, or if you feel overwhelmed, stuck, or overcome with sadness, you may want to speak with a professional counselor, clergy person, social worker, or therapist. In addition, you can check out the Related Q&As below. If you ever find yourself thinking suicidal thoughts, it is important that you get help immediately. You can speak with someone at Lifeline, 24 hours a day/7 days per week, by calling 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255).

Each semester, Columbia students find solace and strength in attending the Bereavement Group at Counseling and Psychological Services. In this group, students can freely discuss their feelings in a confidential, supportive group setting with others who are also experiencing grief. For more information, you can call x4-2878. If you are a student at another institution, you may want to look for a similar group, either on campus or locally.

Wishing you solace and comfort during this difficult time,

Alice