Not the Same: Distinguishing Sadness from Depression


Depression is a complex set of factors that deplete people of the energy and motivation required to function adequately day to day.

Depression does not prevent the arising of sadness or other emotions though it can block our ability to feel them.

Sadness and Tears

Sadness is an emotion that naturally occurs when we are faced with a major disappointment, or some type of loss. The flood gates of feeling open to help us release what is flowing out of our physical experience.

We make this flood of feeling and its tearful expression unnatural by believing it is a display of weakness, something to be ashamed of. Many of us acquired this belief while growing up.

Yet, what could be more empowering than tears and sobs carrying the imprint of our appreciation or love from the inner world into the outer one? As our cries fade and the tears dry we are giving back to the universe something or someone that was never ours to keep. Letting go is difficult, and it hurts, but expressing sadness or grief is bittersweet relief.

Depression and Tears

Tearfulness and crying are also an expression of those who are clinically depressed, yet there are differences between depressive tears and tears of sadness. With sadness you generally know what you are crying about, whether it be losing a valued piece of family jewelry or a valued relationship. Depressive tears are more of a mystery.

It can seem as if the flood gates are opened, and the gate keeper has gone home when you are depressed. You do not know specifically why you are crying and soaking your shirt with tears, nor why you cannot quit. It is maybe our body’s wise way of loosening whatever emotional and energetic blocks have stopped us in our tracks—a constantly flowing river of emotion to carry away depressive debris.

Though this tearfulness is a symptom of depression, it can also be viewed as the body’s attempt to heal itself. It is possible an individual who stops crying and enters a numb or catatonic depressed state is more at risk than one who cannot stop expressing their life force through tears.

Keeping Psychological Balance

Sadness and grief are emotional reactions to loss that also help us come to terms with that loss. As do all emotions, they inform our personal experience and help us maintain psychological balance. Maybe someday we will say something similar about depression—that it is a distressing but informative personal experience that arises to help us regain our psychological balance.

Photo credit: Lau_Lau Chan / flickr


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