Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Treatment of Grief and Depression at the End of Life


Am Fam Physician. 2012 Aug 1;86(3):online.

  See related article on grief and depression.

What is grief?

If you are very sick or are nearing the end of life, you may have some losses. You may lose your health, wealth, independence, or close relationships with your friends and family. All of these losses can be hard to cope with. It's normal to have feelings of grief from these losses.

What does grief feel like?

You may have feelings of anger, disbelief, longing, sadness, helplessness, and guilt. You may also feel nervous or tired, have changes in your sleep and appetite, and be less social.

How is grief treated?

Most people cope with grief by talking to their family, friends, or a member of their church that they trust, such as a priest, pastor, or rabbi. You may also feel like talking to your doctor, counselor, or therapist, or using support groups. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

How is grief different from depression?

It is normal for you to feel sad when you are very sick. However, feeling sad all the time; feeling hopeless, helpless, or guilty; not enjoying life; and thinking about suicide are not normal. These feelings may be a sign of major depression, which is a serious medical illness that needs to be treated.

How is depression treated?

Even though you may become depressed near the end of life, there are ways to help you feel better. Talking with your doctor or a therapist can help. Your doctor can give you medicine to help your symptoms, improve the quality of your life, lower stress on your family members, and may even prolong your life.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Caring Connections

Web site:


Web site:

Hospice Foundation of America

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2012 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

More in AFP

Editor's Collections


Jul 2021

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article