If you’ve been feeling low and sad of late how can you tell if it is just sadness or the early signs of depression? About 15 million American adults suffer from depression and countless more may be undiagnosed.1 But are you among them? While you shouldn’t overreact to every instance of sadness thinking it is depression, there are times when that sadness doesn’t go away or get better no matter what you do. And that is something you shouldn’t ignore. The key is knowing how to tell depression and sadness apart – and that’s exactly what we’ve attempted to help you with here.
Why It Is Important To Know The Difference
Depression needs professional medical and psychiatric attention and the help of an expert. It isn’t something that a night out with your friends or a shopping spree can cure. If you’ve ever felt you were dealing with something more than just an off day, it may be wise to trust that gut instinct and check for telltale signs of depression.
Depression Vs. Sadness: Telling Them Apart
Your first step to getting the right kind of treatment is to identify whether you are in fact depressed or simply experiencing a spell of sadness – as you might in the aftermath of a tragedy, personal loss, or failure.2
1. Identifiable Cause Or Not?
Sadness is most often the result of something that has happened, usually one or two particular things. You may feel sad because of a situation, event, or experience that was challenging or hurtful or difficult on some way.3 Depression, on the other hand, could be due to a host of different reasons. This includes a genetic or biological predisposition to be depressed. In other words, something in the way you’re wired just makes you more prone to depression. Major psychological stress or trauma could also cause depression to set in.4
2. Sad At Some Things Vs. Every Thing
As a Psychology Today article put it, you feel sad about “something”. Depression, on the other hand, doesn’t have any logical reason you can trace the feelings back to. It is a lingering and endless feeling of despair and hopelessness. As a result, almost every single thing makes you sad. Your life may not even have any flashpoints at all! So someone with a full and content life too can be depressed.5
3. Sadness Goes Away On Its Own
Sadness is a normal human response to certain negative experiences or events. So when your situation changes or if your emotional pain reduces with time, you learn to live with or get over this disappointment or hurt. Essentially sadness fades away but depression doesn’t. It needs treatment.6
4. Sadness: Just One Symptom Of Depression
While someone who is depressed may feel sad, this is but one symptom of depression. Depression also has a slew of other symptoms that you should watch out for, including the following, as defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or ADAA7:
Strange as it may seem, while we all associate depression with sadness and the blues, it is possible to be depressed without actually experiencing sadness as a symptom.8
- Feeling of emptiness
- Helplessness and hopelessness
- Low energy levels/fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Issues with making a decision
- No interest in hobbies/interests/sex
- Sleeping trouble (early morning awakening, oversleeping, insomnia)
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Suicidal thoughts
5. Additional Unexplained Physical Symptoms
In addition to being a mental problem that impacts your mood, depression also affects your physical well-being. Unlike sadness which just makes you mentally and emotionally low, depression may even result in physical problems that do not seem to respond to any kind of medical treatment. Some common problems you may experience with depression include9:
- Digestive trouble
- Unexplained pain
6. Depression May Be “Silent”
While some people speak of depression being marked by agitation or collapsing in a flood of tears, not everyone has dramatic outbursts when they are depressed. In fact, many people who are depressed become numb and withdrawn. If you see someone who is “beyond tears” and not displaying any emotions at all, they may be suffering on the inside.10
Red Flags: Spotting The Tipping Point
When does sadness become something more? At what point is it not just an off day but a case of depression? You need to watch out for these red flags to tell you that it isn’t a simple case of sadness.
- Prolonged feeling of being down that doesn’t seem to go away.
- Threshold for everything is low – you’re easily upset, easily angry, easily frustrated, very impatient.
- Physical symptoms accompany the emotional and mental issues.
- No perceptible reason for the sadness. Your life “should” be good, but doesn’t feel like it.
Minimize The Risk Of Wrong Diagnosis
On the one hand, there are those who may hope against hope that all they have is a spell of sadness and underplay their problem. And on the other, there are those who get wrongly diagnosed as being depressed. This is based on displaying deep sadness and five or more symptoms among many, including low energy, sleep problems, change in appetite, concentration issues, restlessness, feelings of failure, and suicidal thoughts for two weeks or longer. But remember, these could sometimes be a natural response to a personal loss or failure and will pass. A normal human reaction to some life change should not be seen as depression.11
Get Help On Time!
If you don’t get timely help, your depression could get worse, leading to withdrawal from your own life and those around you. This self-imposed isolation could even lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts to take your own life. And that’s a stage you don’t want to find yourself at ever. Treatment may include a combination of counseling or therapy as well as medication, depending on your situation.
|↑1||Facts & Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.|
|↑2, ↑11||Is There Really an Epidemic of Depression? Scientific American.|
|↑3, ↑5, ↑6||The Important Difference Between Sadness and Depression. Psychology Today.|
|↑4||What’s the difference between being depressed and being sad or unhappy? Women’s College Hospital.|
|↑7, ↑9||Symptoms. ADAA.|
|↑8||Gallo, Joseph J., Peter V. Rabins, Constantine G. Lyketsos, Allen Y. Tien, and James C. Anthony. “Depression without sadness: functional outcomes of nondysphoric depression in later life.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 45, no. 5 (1997): 570-578.|
|↑10||The Difference Between Sadness and Depression. Mental Health First Aid USA.|