The Difference Between Sadness and Depression

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How Do I Know If It’s Sadness or Depression?

It’s normal to feel sad from time to time. Sadness is a natural reaction to something upsetting that has happened and to which to feel a sense of grief or loss. Depression on the other hand is more extreme. It is more of a deep emotional response that has a lot more symptoms than sadness and can, if not treated, lead to other issues like an overwhelming anxiety, isolation and even suicide.

One major difference between sadness and depression is that a person experiencing feelings which they find disconcerting can reasonably tell you what it is that is causing their unhappiness, however, a person suffering from depression may not necessarily be able to do so. And though it is safe to say anyone going through depression experiences sadness, not every sad person is necessarily depressed although both emotional hindrances might need to be addressed and catered to in very similar ways.

It’s important to note that since depression is usually more burdensome than a state of sadness, one needs to be able to distinguish between the two to determine the amount of effort that may be needed to correct either of these emotions.

Listed below are common symptoms of depression in no specific order:

Irritability and mood swings.
Hopelessness and extreme pessimism (a negative outlook on life)
Loss of energy and motivation mixed with extreme fatigue and feelings of being tired
Loss of interest in hobbies that previously brought joy
Lack of effort relating to personal appearance (dirty clothing, lack of bathing or grooming)
Avoidance of loved ones
Low self-esteem and self-worth
Suicidal thoughts (in extreme cases)
Insomnia (lack of) or excessive sleep.
Inexplicable weight loss or gain

Though not a conclusive list as characteristics vary from person to person, the symptoms of depression listed above are the most common.

In contrast to the above, sadness is not constant. Sadness is not an every-moment-of-every-day thing like depression is. Sadness relents, depression doesn’t. Sadness is interrupted by periods of laughter; depression often can’t be budged. Sadness may usher in negative thoughts, but it does not propel a person into a place of suicidal ideation. Sadness may reduce our ability to enjoy life but it doesn’t destroy it all together. Sadness may last for what feels like a long period of time, but it does not remain constant for weeks or months. Sadness doesn’t produce significant weight changes or prolonged periods of sleep changes.

It’s important to understand the difference between sadness and depression because it clarifies which is an illness and which is not. It’s important to realize that depression is not a medicalization of normal, human emotion. Depression is a real illness. It is very different from sadness. The causes of depression are complicated, and research indicates that there is no single cause. Some people may be genetically or biologically predisposed to depression. Environmental and social factors, such as trauma and major psychological stress, may also play a role.

If you’re struggling with feelings of sadness or depression and you’d like to discover more about how to treat it, please contact someone at our office, another clinician with whom you feel comfortable or your primary care physician. Regardless of the cause, the most important thing to remember is that both sadness and depression are treatable.