How to Tell the Difference Between Sadness and Depression

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Many people experience depression or sadness at some point in their lives. It is crucial to establish the difference between emotions of sadness and a depression diagnosis. Sadness is a human emotion that every human goes through at sad and stressful times. Depression, on the other hand, is a type of mental disorder that affects every part of a person’s life. It can occur in any person, irrespective of age and gender, altering their attitude and behavior.

Depression is a common mental disorder, and sadness is a huge part of it, but they are not the same. Recognizing the differences can help you know when to seek treatment.

Here is a deep dive into the main differences between sadness and depression.

What Is Sadness?

Sadness is a human emotion that every person feels at some point in their lives. It is a natural reaction to situations that cause emotional pain or upset. The degree of sadness varies; like other emotions, sadness fades with time and is temporary.

Various events can leave you feeling unhappy such as the loss or absence of a loved one, loss of a job, income, divorce, financial trouble, or some issues at home. Experiencing disappointment, failing an exam, or not getting a job can also negatively affect your mood.

Someone experiencing sadness can find relief from venting, crying, or expressing their frustrations. Often sadness has a particular trigger and passes after some time. If the low mood or sadness goes on for longer than two weeks, you should seek the help of a doctor.

What Is Depression?

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Depression is a mental disorder that has an overpowering effect on all parts of a person’s life. Studies show that about 5% of adults suffer from depression. Some of the symptoms associated with depression include:

  • Sadness
  • Feeling discourages
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest in the things that you found enjoyable before
  • Constant feelings of sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal actions or death
  • Constant thoughts about death
  • Feelings of deep or unwarranted guilt
  • Physical symptoms such as body aches and headaches with no specific cause
  • Difficulty in concentrating

Some of these symptoms are present when you are sad, but they should never last for more than two weeks. Suicidal thoughts are, however, a sign of depression and not sadness.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling sad throughout the day or during most of the day
  • Lack of enjoyment in activities that you used to find pleasurable
  • Overeating or having trouble eating
  • Restlessness, irritability, or agitation
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Exaggerated feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Inability to make decisions or concentrate
  • Thinking a lot about death or dying
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

What Are the Risk Factors for Depression?

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Depression occurs in both men and women at any age. It also affects people across all socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic groups. There are various risk factors associated with depression, but having one or more risk factors does not mean you are depressed.

The risk factors include:

  • Teenage or childhood trauma.
  • Inability to cope with a sad life event such as the death of a child or spouse or any other situation that could cause extreme pain.
  • Family history of mental illness, including depression or bipolar disorder.
  • History of substance abuse, including alcohol and drugs.
  • Lack of community or family acceptance for identifying with the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Trouble adjusting to body changes, especially after an injury such as paralysis or loss of a limb.
  • Trouble adjusting to a terminal medical diagnosis such as stroke, cancer, chronic pain, or heart disease.
  • History of mental illnesses like bulimia, anorexia, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Lack of a solid support system such as family, friends, or coworkers.

It is also important to note that depression is a possible side effect of some medications. The medications that can cause depression include:

  • Hormonal medication
  • Beta-blockers
  • Corticosteroids
  • Statins (Medication used to treat high cholesterol)

Talk to your doctor if you realize your medication is affecting your mood.

When Should You Seek Help?

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You should talk to your therapist or psychiatrist if you experience sadness for more than two weeks. You can call emergency services to get immediate help if you have been experiencing suicidal thoughts.

If the feelings are affecting your ability to function and perform your daily activity and blocking you from experiencing joy, seek professional help from a clergy member, therapist, or any other trusted person who can help you take steps to recover.

How Can I Treat Sadness?

If you are sad, you can make minor lifestyle changes that may help lift your mood. Some of them include the following:

  • Connecting with other people through, for instance, making a phone call, joining a jogging club, taking a yoga class, joining a knitting circle, or any other group activity that might interest you.
  • Make time for an activity that you enjoy
  • Watch a funny movie or television show
  • Engage in physical activity or a sport you enjoy
  • Spend time with animals if you love animals
  • Treat yourself kindly by eating healthy and getting enough sleep
  • Meditate or take a bath if you are having trouble sleeping
  • Simplify your life


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When experiencing sadness simple lifestyle changes can help you feel better when experiencing depression. However, these changes are not enough; you will need psychological counseling to make a difference with a professional you trust. This type of counseling is known as talk therapy.

If you are suicidal or depressed, you need inpatient care from a hospital or a therapeutic setting. Your therapist or physician may prescribe medication for you in some cases.

There are different types of antidepressants available, but your doctor will decide the ones to add to your regime. It is important to note that antidepressants can sometimes increase suicidal thoughts, and you should let your doctor know when your notice your depression worsening.

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