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Sadness vs. Depression: What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between sadness and depression? And how can you figure out whether you’re experiencing sadness or depression. Find out here.

When you live with a mental illness you understand depression. You know how much depression hurts, the damage it can cause, and the fear that results from it. But it can be hard to distinguish a state of sadness from that of depression. And it be scary not knowing if you may be experiencing a depression relapse or, with any luck, just feeling plain sad.

Sadness may be a simple emotion, perhaps, but not when you live with depression. Not when every tear that falls makes you fear that the road to recovery you carefully walk will crumble at your feet. Depression a feeling of powerlessness, to say the least.

What Is Sadness?

Sadness is different. Sadness is often related to circumstance. For example, the end of a relationship, stress at work or home, and even things we cannot define. Sadness is human and sadness still hurts–but, I timidly argue, sadness does not hurt like depression.

First, let’s refer to Wikipedia in a vague attempt to define sadness.

Sadness is a severe pain related to being sorrow, feeling alone and helpless, which results from negative outcomes. . .Sadness can be viewed as a temporary lowering of mood, whereas depression is more chronic.

This is better than I thought it would be, though I associate the phrase severe depression to less aptly define sadness, more so to define depression. I certainly cannot minimize sadness. I cannot define it just for myself; each of us experiences sadness differently.

That being said, I think the key phrase here is: “Sadness can be viewed as a temporary lowering of mood, whereas depression is more chronic.”

Alright, how is depression different?

What is the difference between sadness and depression? And how can you figure out whether you’re experiencing sadness or depression. Find out here.

What Is Depression?

Wikipedia provides its inquisitive readers with this information:

Depression is a state of low mood . . . Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, worried, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, hurt, or restless. They may lose interest in activities that once were pleasurable, experience loss of appetite or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions, and may contemplate or attempt suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains, or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may also be present.

My sincere apologies on this being excessively wordy. I tried to eliminate parts of it but all of those words apply to a state of depression and many of them differ from that of sadness.

How Do We Tell The Difference Between Sadness and Depression?

I say farewell to Wikipedia for this bit. I think we have enough adjectives at our disposal. I’m going to narrow it down.

  • Sadness is a temporary state and comes and goes as negative situations also come and go. Depression is marked by persistent sadness that lasts longer than 2 weeks, but that’s only one depression symptom (What Are the Symptoms of Depression). Depression requires assistance, medication and support. Depression can be chronic in nature. Sadness repeats itself throughout life, but there are spans of different emotion between episodes of sadness.
  • Sadness is often connected to a life change, something negative, but depression can relapse at any time with no discernible reason.
  • Sadness is usually without feelings of suicide; depression can be accompanied by suicidal ideation.
  • Sadness can make a person take less care of themselves, but depression dramatically impacts energy, sleep, appetite and general well being making it very difficult to care for yourself, about yourself, or about much else in life for an extended period of time.

The important thing to remember is that when you live with depression, feeling sad can indicate a negative mood change, a sign of an impending depressive episode. More often than not, sadness is just sadness. Regardless of whether it’s sadness or depression, check in with family and friends and our psychiatric team to rule out depression relapse. Reaching out is part of self-care.

14 thoughts on “Sadness vs. Depression: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Thanks for this post. It really summarizes what I’ve been experiencing for the past 4 years after stopping drinking. Realizing that I’ve been depressed pretty much my entire life but used one substance or another to self-medicate because of extreme trauma experienced beginning at age 3. Living my entire life in delusion and suddenly “coming to” has been equally traumatic. I am hopeful that the fog will lift eventually. It helps to know I am not alone

  2. I’m sad and often alone, but not lonely. Throughout the years friends and family members have become “Can You /Will You” people, often looking for handouts without advice. Last February my sister spent our deceased mom’s social security check while my name was still on the account. Prior to our mom’s death, she moved in with my sister and her family to help her with self-care. To pay my mom’s bills for her, my sister had the SSI check transferred to an account she opened at the same bank and not only paid mom’s bills, but her bills with mom’s check. I couldn’t close out the account until I received mom’s death certificate. IRS tracked down any account from the same bank where my name was attached to my son’s account. Years ago my son added my name to his account to handle his affairs in case of emergency. SSI collected the money from my son’s account. This caused confusion with my son toward me. I had to borrow $1,055.00 to deposit in his account for overdrafting bills. I showed my sister the written proof fo what she’d done from the bank. She’s in denial to this day saying that she did nothing, but said, “Mom passed away in February (2014), not January 27, 2014. And if it happened I don’t have any money to give back ($1,055).” I say that I’ve forgiven this, but this incident resurfaces when family members invite me to any event. I opt out because my sister is always there, still in denial, and communicates with me like this never happened. I say that I’ve moved on. My off-peak hours are spent away from those family members and my family is small in number. I occupy my off-peak time with arts and crafts, tv programming, reading, music listening, poetrywriting, song writing, and working out, but alone. Those off-peak hours aren’t spent confined to home. I do get out when I want or need to – not often though. Depressed – NO, Sad – YES, Alone – YES ………………… but NOT LONELY

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