Depression vs. Sadness: When Professional Help is Needed

January 27, 2023
Depression vs sadness
Depression vs. Sadness: When Professional Help is Needed

It’s easy to confuse sadness and depression. They may have similar causes and evoke similar feelings, but the two aren’t the same. Everyone experiences sadness at some point in life because of misfortunes of any kind: losing a job, divorce, demise of a loved one, failing to get a job, or financial difficulties. However, not all people experience depression.

Understanding the detailed characteristics of both emotional states can help you know when to seek professional evaluation and treatment. So, here’s the difference between depression and sadness.

If you experience severe stress and nothing helps, contact our doctors to get professional care.

Causes of Sadness vs. Depression

Today, about one in ten Americans have depression. The problem is rising, not decreasing. Economic hardships and lifestyle changes may be contributing significantly to the increase in depression. For example, as remote working becomes the norm, more people are getting isolated and lonely. Feelings of loneliness are among the top causes of depression. Other causes include:

  • Going through a traumatic experience such as physical or sexual violence.
  • Failure to cope with situations that cause extreme grief, like losing your loved one.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Mental illnesses like bipolar and ADHD.
  • Chronic medical problems like cancer and physical disability.
  • Lack of support groups like coworkers, friends, and family.

Depression vs. Sadness: Main Differences

Depression is a Mental Illness; Sadness is Not

Sadness is the opposite of happiness. It’s a normal human emotion that affects your mood. It can be caused by any unfortunate event that happens in your life. Also, sadness is usually temporary. You might feel sad for a few minutes, hours or even days, and then the feeling disappears.

On the other hand, depression is a mental disorder that makes you feel not just sad but also discouraged and hopeless. It can also be triggered by a variety of factors but it lasts longer. If your sadness persists for over two weeks and is accompanied by other symptoms, it could be depression.

Sad vs depressed

Depression Has a Medical Diagnosis; Sadness Doesn’t

A medical diagnosis can help differentiate a sad vs. depressed person. Sadness is subjective, and it’s hard to test. But depression has verifiable symptoms that help doctors in diagnosis.

According to the DSM-5, a person with a major depressive disorder must present at least five out of nine symptoms with sadness or loss of interest as one of the symptoms from the next list:

  • Having a depressed mood most of the day.
  • A loss of interest in general activities, including those a person used to enjoy.
  • A significant loss of appetite or weight.
  • Sleeping too much or lacking sleep.
  • Becoming more restless or slowed down in movements.
  • Fatigue and loss of energy.
  • Feeling guilty or worthless.
  • Indecisiveness and loss of focus.
  • Having suicidal thoughts.

Additionally, these symptoms must be present nearly every day for at least two weeks to be qualified as signs of depression. And they shouldn’t result from another condition. Sometimes, your friends and close family members can attest to the symptoms because the behavior change is observable. However, if you suffer from mild depression, they may not notice it, so you have to be attentive to your mental state and seek help when needed.

Get your symptoms assessed by a licensed mental health expert in your state.

Depression Has More Severe Effects on Life

Depression can have a major effect on your social and occupational life. For instance, your friends will notice you isolating yourself more. And your boss may start complaining about your decreased productivity. Not only that, but also feelings of overwhelming sadness become more persistent.

Consequently, you might get into trouble at work and risk losing your friends. That’s not the case with sadness. Even though losing a loved one can cause significant grief, it doesn’t affect all aspects of your life.

Sometimes, deep sadness can make you cry or mimic signs of depression like loss of appetite and sleeplessness. But these feelings come in cycles and go away on their own. Sometimes you feel happy, and other times you feel sad. Eventually, you get over your loss and overcome sadness. But the feelings of depression are more persistent and don’t come with such short episodes.

Sadness vs depression diagnosis

When Do You Need Professional Assistance

If you feel sad, you might realize that crying and sharing your problems with a caring person provides relief. Since sadness is temporary, it’s not necessary to seek professional help. But if these feelings continue for over two weeks and you cannot understand whether you are depressed vs. sad, it might be a case of depression. Seek medical help before it becomes debilitating. You should also see a professional if depression affects your daily functioning, like the inability to focus at work.

Unlike sadness, depression doesn’t disappear on its own. But even though it can be exhausting, you can overcome it. To ensure quicker relief, consider seeking professional help. The common treatment plan involves medication and talk therapy. In addition, positive interactions with others and learning to cope with stressful situations can help.

If left untreated, depression can get worse and disrupt your life significantly. In case you or your loved one is struggling with depression, reach out to us for professional assistance.


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