Being Sad vs. Being Depressed: Understanding the Difference


With estimated 31 million Americans suffering from some form of depression, you may be concerned that the feelings of sadness you grapple with in everyday life may be indicative of something more serious. Here are a few guidelines that can be helpful in determining the difference between a standard case of the blues and evidence of a serious mental illness. 

Sadness is Perfectly Normal

Sadness is just one of the many emotions in the wide and varied spectrum of the human experience. As such, it’s totally normal to feel sad when watching a tear-jerking melodrama like Titanic or when a long anticipated vacation has to be indefinitely postponed in the face of a work emergency. It’s also typical to feel sad in the face of a major life upheaval, such as losing a job or the end of marriage. And of course, it’s expected that you’ll encounter profound feelings of loss and grief after the death of a loved one. In fact, feeling no emotional distress in the face of a tragedy may be cause for concern.

Depression is Not

Although there are a number of different types of depression that affect individuals in different ways, there are some commonalities. For one thing, depression lasts considerably longer than sadness, including the kind of heartache that follows a divorce or a death in the family. As opposed to sadness, depression is all-consuming. If your favorite comedy fails to raise a smile and companionship of your closest friends has no appreciable effect on your emotional state, you may be grappling with depression. If you find that persistent feelings of sadness, anger or even numbness are adversely affecting your sleep cycle and appetite, you may want to consult with a mental health professional. If you or someone you know are exhibiting signs of suicidal ideation, you should seek help immediately.

Areas of Concern

It’s also worth examining the causes of one’s melancholy. If you find yourself gripped by persistent feelings of hopelessness without a precipitating event, there might be cause for concern. Additionally, if you find yourself robbed of the motivation to exercise or socialize or participate in the activities that you used to love, that’s a behavior pattern that merits reflection. Also, be aware of atypical symptoms of depression that aren’t as widely known as weight gain and insomnia. A hair-trigger temper, persistent head and body aches and digestive problems are all atypical signs of depression. 

Taking Action

If you’re still unsure about the nature of your malaise, try some non-clinical treatments for depression. Since aerobic exercise induces the release of endorphins, join a gym or start jogging. Cut refined sugars and saturated fat out of your diet to balance your hormone levels. Take up journaling to see if certain events or situations are triggering your negative emotions. Book an acupuncture session. Give guided meditation a try. If all of those methods fail to alleviate your despondency, then you should definitely contact a qualified mental health professional. Though depression is a pernicious illness that affects millions of people, it is treatable. No matter how hopeless you may be feeling right now, recovery is possible.