Complicated Grief and Depression After Cancer


When you are grieving, it is normal for everyday things to seem hard and for you to have lots of mixed and really strong emotions – sadness, anger, loneliness, anxiety – sometimes over a long period of time. That’s why grief and depression sometimes get confused. The difference is depression is about being empty of feelings, while grief is about being full of feelings.

Most young people who experience the death of a parent or a brother or sister do not develop depression. However, sometimes it can feel like it is all too much. You may start to take drugs, drink and/or smoke. You need to be aware that it is these things that can cause your healthy grief to tip over into depression. If you are worried about how you are feeling and concerned that things are out of control, you may need to talk to someone who is skilled in these things and get some help. Talk to a CanTeen counsellor online or by phone.

Complicated grief

Grief is a normal and healthy response to the death of someone you love or losses related to your or a family member’s cancer experience. However there are certain factors that can cause you to experience unhealthy or complicated grief, such as:

  • family dynamics and your relationship with the person who died.
  • other stressors such as exams, financial worries, friendship problems, physical health problems, trauma, abuse or neglect.
  • experiencing multiple losses.
  • a history of depression or mental illness.
  • drug or alcohol use.
  • a lack of support.

Some of the symptoms of complicated grief include:

  • really intense feelings of missing or longing for your mum or dad or brother or sister that occur daily and mess with your ability to think about anything else.
  • trouble accepting the fact that your mum or dad or brother or sister is actually dead.
  • strong feelings of bitterness or anger about the death that could cause harm to your health or the wellbeing of others.
  • feeling numb inside or withdrawn from other members of your family or from friends for long periods of time.
  • a feeling that life just isn’t worth it and that nothing has any meaning or purpose.
  • belief that the future holds nothing good for you and constant feeling that you will never be able to enjoy things again.

If you have these symptoms and they are affecting you at school, study or work and in other areas of your life then you need some professional help. Talk to your GP, or a CanTeen counsellor.

For a full list of CanTeen resources click here