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J Affect Disord. 2015 May 1;176:43-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.01.063. Epub 2015 Feb 7.

Clinical features distinguishing grief from depressive episodes: A qualitative analysis.

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School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Black Dog Institute, Sydney, Australia. Electronic address:
School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Black Dog Institute, Sydney, Australia.



The independence or interdependence of grief and major depression has been keenly argued in relation to recent DSM definitions and encouraged the current study.


We report a phenomenological study seeking to identify the experiential and phenomenological differences between depression and grief as judged qualitatively by those who had experienced clinical (n=125) or non-clinical depressive states (n=28).


Analyses involving the whole sample indicated that, in contrast to grief, depression involved feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, being endless and was associated with a lack of control, having an internal self-focus impacting on self-esteem, being more severe and stressful, being marked by physical symptoms and often lacking a justifiable cause. Grief was distinguished from depression by the individual viewing their experience as natural and to be expected, a consequence of a loss, and with an external focus (i.e. the loss of the other). Some identified differences may have reflected the impact of depressive "type" (e.g. melancholia) rather than depression per se, and argue for a two-tiered model differentiating normative depressive and grief states at their base level and then "clinical" depressive and 'pathological' grief states by their associated clinical features.


Comparative analyses between the clinical and non-clinical groups were limited by the latter sub-set being few in number. The provision of definitions may have shaped subjects׳ nominated differentiating features.


The study identified a distinct number of phenomenological and clinical differences between grief and depression and few shared features, but more importantly, argued for the development of a two-tiered model defining both base states and clinical expressions.


Assessment; Depression; Diagnosis; Grief; Qualitative

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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