The Key Difference Between Sadness and Depression

· January 15, 2017
The two aren't the same, even though many use these terms interchangeably. Here is the key difference between sadness and depression!

Sadness and depression aren’t the same, even though a lot of people use these terms interchangeably. While sadness is a normal human emotion, depression is a mental health issue. Most people aren’t trained to recognize the difference between sadness and depression, causing confusion and misdiagnosis.

In order to help with this, we’ll go over the real difference between sadness and depression. First, we’ll cover the definition of each of these terms. Then, you will be able to easily recognize some of the symptoms and hopefully avoid hurting your or others’ feelings.

Sadness: a normal human emotion
sadness is a normal human emotion

Sadness is a normal reaction to disappointment, loss, problems or any kind of difficult situation. Thus, it’s normal to feel sad from time to time. Moreso, it is a marker of adequate social awareness. As social creatures, we feel sad when ourselves or others have difficulties or problems.

The key here is that sadness is a low mood that lasts for a relatively short period of time. Thus, when feeling sad it’s possible to trace that to a specific event in one’s life that triggered the sad response.

Even though you might be feeling sad, moments of laughter and joy can and usually do coexist.

Feeling devastated after a breakup, family death or an economic problem is normal. However, sadness is far from suffering from a serious pathology such as depression.

See also: Diet for Depression: Foods that Cheer you Up

When sadness is permanent: Depression

Although sadness is a normal human emotion, depression is a health condition. According to the Mayo Clinic:

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.

-The Mayo Clinic

This means that depressed individuals can’t just “snap out of it” or “change their mind”. Depression is pervasive and can slowly take over every part of your life. Thus, in order to overcome depression, it’s important to seek medical help.

In this sense, depression is a mental illness that affects your mood, how you see yourself, and has consequences for everyone surrounding you. Thus, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s rude to say mockingly “I’m depressed” when in fact you aren’t, or to accuse someone else of being depressed, without thinking it might offend them.

the difference between sadness and depression is the mental health of an individual
What are the symptoms of depression?

Psychiatric or psychological consultation is vital so that the person can enjoy life in every way again.

Either way, to be diagnosed, a person must present at least 5 of these symptoms. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the following symptom list is only a guide. If you are feeling sad and think you might be depressed, it’s important to consult with a professional:

Here are some common symptoms of depression.

  • Feeling irritable most of the time.
  • Feeling sad all day and for no apparent reason.
  • Loss or reduction of pleasure and interest in everyday activities
  • Changes in weight or appetite.
  • Trouble falling asleep or needing too much sleep.
  • Feeling restless on a daily basis.
  • Slowness in movements. Tiredness and low energy
  • Inability to make decisions. Feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Problems focusing, concentrating or being creative.

How to differentiate sadness from depression?

  • If we can establish the cause, it’s probably sadness. By reflecting on the problem and finding a solution, it’s possible for emotions to improve.
  • Depression is chronic and generalized sadness. Thus, there’s usually no clear factor in the origin of this feeling.
it's important to know the difference between sadness and depression

Depression has repercussions in every aspect of our lives. For this reason, depression makes life less interesting, less pleasant and less exciting. It is synonymous with losing the sense of things and deteriorating vital energy.

Read more: How to Show Love to Someone Who Suffers Depression

Am I depressed?

If you have been struggling, it might be a good time for a psychological consultation. It’s difficult to realize if we’re suffering from an emotional disorder and because of that, it’s better to seek professional health.

therapy is a great tool for depression

If you’re curious or would like to make sure before booking an appointment, there are some tests you can do by yourself:

The Goldberg Anxiety and Depression Scale is used by psychologists to determine the status of their patients. As such, it’s a useful questionnaire with a scale that will rate your mental state.

On the other hand, you can also choose the Self-applied Zung Depression Scale. This test opens up the spectrum a little more, thus exploring some deeper topics.

Depression is a relatively common illness around the world. Even so, according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s also one of the most undertreated conditions. If you think you might be depressed, it’s important to look for help. Although this is a serious condition, it can be treated effectively. You can get your life back!

  • Zung, W. W. (1965). A self-rating depression scale. Archives of general psychiatry12(1), 63-70.
  • Biggs, J. T., Wylie, L. T., & Ziegler, V. E. (1978). Validity of the Zung self-rating depression scale. The British Journal of Psychiatry132(4), 381-385.
  • Schmidt, H. D., Shelton, R. C., & Duman, R. S. (2011). Functional biomarkers of depression: diagnosis, treatment, and pathophysiology. Neuropsychopharmacology36(12), 2375.
  • Stoppard, J. M., & McMullen, L. M. (Eds.). (2003). Situating sadness: Women and depression in social context. NYU Press.
  • Gallo, J. J., & Rabins, P. V. (1999). Depression without sadness: alternative presentations of depression in late life. American family physician60(3), 820-826.