Many people use the words depression and sadness interchangeably. However, the meanings are tremendously different. Sadness is an emotion, while depression is a clinical diagnosis. This article will discuss how sadness differs from depression.
What is the difference between depression and sadness?
Everybody experiences the normal human emotion of sadness at one point or another, as it usually has a specific trigger like upsetting life events. Depression is an overpowering and overwhelming mental health disorder that drastically impacts everyday life.
What is sadness?
Sometimes the loss of a job, a difficult break-up, or the death of a loved one can cause significant feelings of sadness and grief. These are a normal response to a tragic event. Some who are experiencing these emotions may describe their experience as ‘depression.’
Sadness versus depression
However, it’s crucial to understand that being sad is not the same as clinical depression. Grief is natural and may share similar features to depression, such as intense sadness and isolation from daily activities. In sorrow, the pain comes on like waves mixed with positive memories. While sadness maintains one’s sense of self-worth, depression often causes feelings of worthlessness. Luckily, sadness will fade with time.
Sometimes grief and depression occur at the same time. In these cases, the grief is more long-term and may require treatment. Understanding the difference between sadness and depression supports people to get the help or treatment that they need.
When to seek help
If the feelings of sadness last longer than two weeks or interfere with your ability to function, you may be experiencing depression. Make an appointment to speak with a health care provider. However, those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts should call emergency services at once.
What is depression?
Depression is more common than you may think. Almost one in twenty (4.7%) have a clinical diagnosis of depression, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that 264 million adults worldwide live with this diagnosis.
Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, affects how you feel, think, and act. It can interfere with your ability to function at work and home. Depression causes a loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities.
To have depression, you must experience symptoms for two weeks, and it must be a change from your typical behavior. According to the American Psychology Association, the symptoms of depression involve any (or all) of the following:
- having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite (weight gain or loss)
- Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping too much
- Inability to sit still, pacing or hand wringing
- Slowed movements or speech
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty concentrating or making choices
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Other symptoms of depression include irritability, anger, or physical symptoms (headaches or body aches) that do not seem to have a cause.
Depression occurs in both men and women across the lifespan. It can affect people across all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. While having a risk factor doesn’t mean that you’ll become depressed, some things can make it more likely. These risk factors include:
- Assigned female at birth
- Family history of depression (genetics)
- Low self-esteem
- Exposure to violence, neglect, or abuse
- Childhood trauma
- Difficulty coping with a devastating life event
- History of substance abuse
- History of prior mental health disorders
- Lack of support systems
It is important to rule out a medical cause as some conditions, like brain disease or a thyroid disorder, can have similar symptoms. Some medications may also cause depressive symptoms, like beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, ace inhibitors, angiotensin II blockers (ARBs), and alpha interferons.
There are other depressive conditions than major depressive disorder, like:
- Peripartum (postpartum) depression
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
If your healthcare provider evaluates you for depression, they will use the diagnostic criteria of the DSM-V. To qualify as a major depressive disorder, you must experience a change in functioning from before. Also, you must experience five or more of the following symptoms during the same 2-week period (and at least one of the symptoms is either a depressed mood or loss of pleasure).
- Depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Diminished interest in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day
- Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease/increase in appetite nearly every day
- Insomnia or extreme sleepiness nearly every day
- Physical agitation or slowed movements (observed by others) nearly every day
- Fatigue nearly every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
- Diminished ability to think or indecisiveness, almost every day
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a plan, suicide attempt, or a specific plan for committing suicide
Luckily, depression is treatable. However, the treatment depends on the severity of depression, the person’s response, and personal preferences.
- Coping methods Some people do well by sticking to a routine, increasing physical activity, connecting with friends or family, and resuming activities that you used to enjoy. Avoid drugs and alcohol, eat healthfully, and make sure to get enough sleep each night. However, for some, lifestyle changes may not be enough.
- Psychotherapy Psychotherapy is a specific type of counseling with a trained professional. A therapist can identify problem areas, provide education, and recommend coping mechanisms.
- Medications There are many categories of medications that treat depression. However, the most common kind are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that increase levels of serotonin (a chemical messenger that improves mood) in the brain. These medications include sertraline, fluoxetine, citalopram, and escitalopram. However, there is the risk that some SSRIs can cause increased suicidal ideation in younger people.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) ECT is a psychiatric treatment reserved for severe depression that does not respond to medication and psychotherapy. The patient is given anesthesia, and an expert stimulates the brain to induce a generalized seizure (without muscular convulsions) to manage the major depressive disorder.
The bottom line
For some, the sadness is situational, while others experience clinical depression. While sadness and depression are often different, they can co-exist. Throughout a person’s life, an estimated one in six will experience depression. However, that doesn’t mean that you will always feel this way. Regardless of how you are feeling, you are worthy of happiness and healing.