Is Depression Just Sadness?

June 12, 2014 Natasha Tracy

Many of us associate depression with sadness only, but there are many psychological and physical symptoms of depression besides sadness.

When I think about depression I think of crushing sadness. I think of heavy, devastating sadness that will not move or shift for anything. I think of a sadness that penetrates your bones and makes life feel like it’s not worth living. I definitely identify sadness with depression.

But is depression really just profound sadness?

No, of course it isn’t. Depression is a complex mental illness and it is made up of both physical and psychological symptoms.

The Psychological Symptoms of Depression

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR, the book that defines mental illnesses), one must have a minimum of five symptoms in order to qualify for a diagnosis of depression. In other words, if all you’re feelings is sadness, you are not depressed.

The psychological symptoms of depression according to the DSM-IV-TR are:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anhedonia (loss of pleasure in previously pleasurable experiences)
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Diminished ability to concentrate and make decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide
  • A pattern of long-standing interpersonal rejection ideation, suicide attempt, or specific plan for suicide

(When diagnosing depression, one of the symptoms must be a depressed mood or anhedonia and symptoms must be near constant for at least two weeks.)

The Physical Symptoms of Depression

And, much to the surprise of many, there are physical, obvious, visible symptoms of depression indicated in the DSM-IV-TR too. The physical symptoms of depression are identified as:

  • Significant weight change or appetite disturbance
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Psychomotor agitation (can be both physical and mental)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy

So while I (and many people) relate sadness and depression strongly, it’s important to remember that sadness is not all depression is. Depression is a full-fledged, physical illness and carries with it many symptoms. It’s important to remember this because it explains so much of what we experience when we’re depressed. Understanding all the symptoms of depression gives us a better handle on what goes on in our brains and in our bodies.

Depression is Not Just Sadness.

And it’s important to point out that people who are sad are not depressed. Sadness is a normal, human emotion that we all experience, depression is not.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2014, June 12). Is Depression Just Sadness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 30 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

September, 23 2014 at 7:15 pm

I've been depressed for about a year now. I'm only 13 and I feel as if it's not fair (like many others probably feel) . I have been suspecting I even have the bipolar disorder. And fathers partner does and I seem to have the same emotions as him, but I am normal sad and he is normally happy (he takes medication) I'm afraid to tell my parents because they think I'm the perfect daughter but I'm close to the opposite. Should I tell them( probably just my mom ) or should I wait it out until I can do everything on my own( I'm very independent and I don't like when other people try to deal with my problems) ....... I just don't know what to do..

Serena Isham
June, 18 2014 at 4:21 am

I have many different manifestations of depression. I am more depressed than anything and I don't really go up anymore like I did when I was younger. I have been on lithium for 15 years and now I am heading into my mid 40's so I am also experiencing moodiness related to hormones. But my depression symptoms not only focus on emotional symptoms but physical ones as well. I am achy like the flu all the time and my hands and feet are. sore. I forget words and I am not able to speak sometimes.My memory gets clouded and I usually remember everything. I get lots of anxiety when my depression is deep. All of these things get better when I feel better and I am just my usual a little depressed self instead of in the middle of it.I usually have these deep depressions twice a year for around three months at a time.

June, 18 2014 at 4:08 am

I'm new to healthy place, but so far all I have seen are very helpful articles. I've been struggling with depression for 11 years now. This article in particular helped me a great deal. Thank you!

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