Iris Mini: Is It Grief or Depression?

Many people with cancer have times of sadness. It is normal to feel this way with all the changes that come with cancer treatment. However, it can be helpful to know the similarities and differences among feelings of sadness, grief, and depression. 

A person can be experiencing both grief and depression simultaneously. The interventions for grief and depression can be different. Are you grieving about cancer-related losses, feeling depressed, or maybe both?

Use this chart below to help you understand your feelings. You are not alone. Consider reaching out to an Iris mental health therapist to further explore your emotions and for cancer-specific support.

Grief Versus Depression



- Can be experienced as sadness

- Natural response to loss and change

- Can be brief, fades with time, and does not impact daily functioning for long periods

- Clinical condition lasting at least two weeks and generally requires treatment

- Can involve feelings of sadness, guilt, loss of motivation, and sense of worthlessness

- Can involve new and persistent changes in appetite, sleep, and energy

- Specific identified loss

- A specific loss may or may not be present

- Subjective experience (you know when you feel sad)

- Normal grief includes good and hard days

- Specified symptoms and timeframe

- Less fluctuation in mood

- Able to feel/respond to comfort from others and can experience a wide range of emotions

- Feeling "stuck" and not always able to respond to comfort from others

- Fluctuating ability to feel joy or pleasure 

- Difficult to experience joy or pleasure

- Tears or crying can bring a sense of relief

- Tears or crying generally does not bring a sense of relief

- Sense of worthiness generally preserved 

- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, sometimes feeling like dying