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Sadness vs Depression – What’s the Difference?

Millions of people worldwide experience feelings of depression or sadness at some point during their lives. However, in order to cope with the issue in a healthy way, it’s important to recognise the differences between the emotions of sadness and a clinical diagnosis of depression.

Difference #1: Sadness is an emotion – depression is a mental illness

Sadness is a normal human emotion that we all feel from time to time. It’s usually triggered by a hurtful, disappointing or negative experience. In other words, we feel sad about something. Which also means that once our situation improves or an emotional hurt fades, our sadness decreases too.

On the other hand, depression is a mental illness. It manifests itself in different depressive symptoms that affect most areas of life, lasting for more than two weeks. It leaves you feeling exhausted with no motivation and the things that you once enjoyed, don’t cheer you up anymore. This causes general distress and negatively changes your whole attitude towards life.

Difference #2: Sadness is fleeting – depression is persistent

Our emotions are conscious, momentary experiences that fade with time. Even during a sad period, there will be times throughout your day where you feel OK and may laugh or enjoy your favourite song. In other words, sadness will pass.

Depression lasts much longer. Without appropriate treatment, it will persist for most of your day and there is no ‘snapping out’ of it. Symptoms may be worse in the morning but depression defines your whole day – and it may seem unthinkable that you’ll ever feel happy again.

Difference #3: Sadness is a reaction – depression is a general state

Sadness is usually a reaction to something unpleasant, such as a hurtful event. The sadness you feel after such an experience is a healthy and normal response. In contrast, depression most can occur for no real reason.

Depression is an abnormal emotional state that affects our behaviours, thinking and perceptions in chronic ways – and it causes a person to feel sad about everything. Even though there may be no event causing an issue and life may seem totally fine – a person with depression will still feel horrible.

Difference #4: Sadness temporarily changes your mood – depression changes your life

During a period of sadness, your mood changes. You may be preoccupied and find yourself regularly thinking of sad thoughts. Even so, you will likely still be able to go about your daily routine normally.

But with depression, your daily life can be too challenging to bear. Life has dramatically changed and you may have lost your appetite, struggle with low energy, trouble sleeping and no interest whatsoever in things that once brought you great joy.

Difference #5: Sadness is subjective – depression is clinically diagnosed

No one can deny that you may be feeling sad; it’s something that you experience independently and subjectively. But depression has set criteria and requires a clinical diagnosis, so a depression test is necessary. If you’re still unsure whether you’re suffering from depression, keep track of your feelings and physical experiences, as these can help support your diagnosis.

Take our online test for depression here. Please note that self-assessment should not take the place of a proper assessment with a psychologist

When should you seek help?

Don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor if you experience persistent feelings of sadness for more than two weeks – but call emergency services if you’re having suicidal thoughts and you don’t feel safe.

If your feelings are interfering with your daily life, your ability to function and your enjoyment in things, speaking to a professional such as a therapist or other trusted person can be a powerful step towards recovery and feeling like yourself again.

At Positive Mind Works, we understand how hard it is to reach out and take the first step towards getting help. That’s why we offer a 20-minute initial consultation, to help ease you into talking to someone and gain confidence in your counsellor and with our service.

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