How to Tell the Difference between Sadness and Depression


Intensity, frequency, longevity: these are three key indicators of a diagnosis of depression rather than a diagnosis of sadness.


Everyone has been sad at some point in their life. Sadness is a mood, a temporary reaction to a life event, such as the loss of a job or a home, the absence of a friend, the result of a disagreement with a loved one. Failure to achieve a goal, a failed relationship, or even consideration of the plight of an endangered group or society can trigger feelings of frustration, pain and grief.

Sadness is a normal, healthy way for the mind to work through acceptance of something emotionally painful. It might last a few days or a few months. During this time, the person experiencing sadness is still able to perform normally in all aspects of their lives. Eventually, the mind works through the reason for the sad feelings, and the mood dissipates, in whole or in part.


Depression is much deeper and much less temporary. Depression is not a mood, it is a disturbance in the flow of neural information through the brain, as the result of low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. It is a complex disease that can be triggered by many things or by nothing.

There is a genetic component to depression, so for some, there may be no apparent trigger. For others, stressful situations, certain medications, serious illness, addiction, conflict or major life changes could all be triggers.

Symptoms of depression include: feelings of hopelessness and helplessness; despair; confusion; self-loathing; restlessness; inability to sleep or sleeping too much; loss or gain of weight; loss or gain of appetite; anger or irritability; loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable; difficulty concentrating, making decisions; persistent aches and pains, headaches, digestive problems; suicidal thoughts.

Depression is chronic, usually lasting from several months to a year. Persistent depression can last two or more years.


Sadness, by itself, does not require treatment to recover from.

Depression, on the other hand, will benefit from both medication and psychotherapy. There are a variety of antidepressant medications available. A psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner will assess your symptoms and prescribe accordingly. Sometimes more than one medication is prescribed, each complementing the other.

Medication can often take up to 6 or 8 weeks to become fully effective. It can be helpful to meet with a therapist or a psychologist and engage in talk therapy during - and after - this period. The combination of therapy and medication is the most effective treatment for the relief of depression.

Sources: and Neumann University


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