Everybody feels sad at certain points in life. We may feel sad about experiencing a major life change, like moving away from your hometown. We might also grapple with sadness after arguing with a loved one or failing to achieve a goal.

People often confuse sadness with depression. What is the difference between sadness and depression? Sadness is a fleeting emotion. Depression is a psychological disorder that changes the brain. While people can quickly overcome sadness, depression can last a lifetime.

Sadness as a Symptom of Depression

What is sadness? Sadness is a negative reaction to a distressing situation. It can cause people to cry, sulk, act irrationally or become withdrawn. However, like other basic emotions, feelings of sadness gradually decrease over time.

A 2018 opinion editorial piece by The New York Times stated that being sad is a natural and reasonable reaction to personal, societal or other challenges. Sadness is not unhealthy unless it persists for an extended period.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), sadness is a common symptom of depression. However, not everyone who is depressed deals with sadness. They may instead grapple with feelings of emptiness and hopelessness or lose interest in pleasurable activities.

Signs of Depression

In response to a difficult or discouraging event, some people deal with bouts of intense sadness that linger for weeks, months or even years. Having persistent, negative emotions for long periods is a telltale symptom of depression.

According to the University of South Florida, depression is more than just sadness. It is a severe mental health condition that can affect many parts of life. This psychological disorder changes the way a person thinks, feels and behaves.

Too many people in the United States know what depression feels like. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depression affects 16.1 million adults in the United States.

According to NIMH, the characteristics of depression differ by gender and age group:

  • Women typically exhibit sadness, guilt and worthlessness
  • Men often appear irritable, tired or angry
  • Older adults usually deal with sadness and grief, although these symptoms may be hard to recognize because they are often overlooked among older Americans
  • Children appear sick and might refuse to go to school
  • Teens often sulk and seem highly irritable

Common symptoms among people with depression include feelings of helplessness, decreased energy, sleeping issues and rapid changes in weight. Depression can also lead to aches and pains, digestive problems and suicidal thoughts.

To improve their mood, many people with depression to turn to drugs or alcohol. These substances can cause individuals to experience euphoric effects that can last a few minutes or hours. However, substance use can bring about drug addiction.

Diagnosing Depression

Distinguishing between sadness and depression can be difficult. Some people who are depressed do not take their negative feelings seriously. They may think that they are coping with sadness.

However, speaking with a medical professional, such as a counselor or therapist, can allow you to better understand your feelings. A clinician can also diagnose you with depression if necessary.

To be diagnosed with depression, an individual must deal with symptoms of depression for at least two weeks. When determining how to diagnose depression, medical professionals abide by the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A doctor might perform a physical exam, lab tests and a psychiatric evaluation before making a diagnosis.

How to Help Someone With Depression

Spending quality time with someone dealing with depression can help them better manage their negative thoughts. Social interactions can increase their mood and self-esteem. It can allow these individuals to stay active and think less about their depressive feelings.

Another way to provide first aid for depression is to offer emotional support. Encouragement can help people better manage their depression. Listening to someone with depression talk about their life problems can bring about a sense of calm in them.

According to NIMH, additional ways to help people deal with depression include:

  • Invite them to social outings or other activities
  • Help them adhere to their treatment plan, if necessary
  • Provide them transportation to or from therapy, if necessary

If a person with depression talks about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The hotline can provide callers with tips for handling someone with depression who might also have suicidal thoughts. If a person threatens to harm themselves, call 911 immediately.

Seeking Treatment for Depression

Treatment may be needed if someone experiences a severe form of depression, such as major depressive disorder. Treatment for depression may involve medications, psychotherapy and brain stimulation therapies.

The treatments that a person receives depend on their specific needs. For example, a young girl with depression will likely undergo a treatment process different from that of an adult male. The length of treatment for depression also varies by person. People with more severe forms of depression usually stay in treatment for several months.

If you experience depression and a substance use disorder, treatment may be needed. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn more about your treatment options. An admissions representative can speak with you about the benefits of treatment.

Boylan, Jennifer F. “What Is Sadness, and What Is Depression?” The New York Times, June 13, 2018. Accessed December 26, 2018.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Depression Basics.” (n.d.). Accessed December 26, 2018.

The University of South Florida. “Sadness and Depression: When it’s not ‘Just the Blues.’” (n.d.). Accessed December 26, 2018.

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