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Do I Have Depression or am I Just Sad?

sadness vs depression

Telling the difference between sadness and depression can be difficult when you are dealing with something extremely emotional or challenging. It’s difficult to tell if it’s just a low mood or if you have a serious mental illness.

Sadness and depression are often linked because of the similar symptoms and feelings that people experience during sadness and depression.

Luckily, there are ways to check in with yourself, evaluate your current situation, and analyze your mental state to help determine if you are depressed or just sad.

Recognizing the Difference between Sadness and Depression

It’s crucial to understand the key differences between sadness and depression in order to differentiate the two in your own mental health.

What is Sadness?

Sadness is a totally normal human emotion and is something that we as emotional human beings inevitably experience throughout our lives.

Feeling sad is an emotion that signals a need to receive help or comfort from others. It’s a wide-ranging emotion that spans everything from mild disappointment to extreme misery and despair.

Feelings of sadness can be triggered by life events that are out of our control. This could be losing a loved one, job loss, the end of a relationship, financial hardship, or a grave health diagnosis, among many others.

Feeling sad can be debilitating in the same way that major depression can, but sadness is not a medical condition — it’s an emotion. Feeling sad usually passes in a short period of time, and people are able to return to their normal activities as the feelings of suffering dissipate.

Symptoms of sadness include:

  • Feeling tired, numb, and lacking energy
  • Crying more often
  • Weight gain from eating too much
  • Weight loss from no appetite
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Losing interest in activities, work, relationships

Sad feelings will come and go throughout our lives. Some people experience more sadness than others, but that doesn’t mean that they have a mental health condition like depression.

For those experiencing bouts of sadness, it’s still important to take care of yourself. Join support groups to find comfort and community. Hold tight to the people who care about you. Take care of yourself through exercise, proper sleep habits, and a balanced diet. Check in with yourself often and take note of how you are feeling. Try to stay present during activities you enjoy and focus on living in the good moments as they happen.

If your feelings of sadness become out of control, seem to be getting worse, or won’t go away, don’t hesitate to talk to a family member and contact your doctor so you can seek professional help. You may be experiencing something more severe than sadness, and it’s important to find out if you are experiencing depression symptoms so you can determine the right treatment.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental disorder that can be diagnosed and treated through psychotherapy and medication. It has a significant effect on behavior, attitude, and mood and can affect either gender at any age.

For those who have clinical depression, the illness has a significant impact on their daily lives. It affects your mood, the way you see yourself, and how you understand relationships and scenarios around you.

Unlike sadness, depression can appear out of nowhere and can last for a significant period of time, but those struggling with depression experience constant feelings of doubt and a variety of physical and emotional issues. For most people, sadness is a temporary emotion that passes with time. Depression requires a diagnosis and treatment in order to feel better.

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts or irritability
  • Change in appetite
  • Insomnia or trouble staying asleep
  • Loss of interest in activities or pleasure (sex, sports, hobbies)
  • Lack of motivation, lethargy, generally disinterested
  • Trouble concentrating and decision-making
  • Unexplained physical symptoms including pain
  • Feeling detached
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

The symptoms of depression are usually severe enough that they disrupt a person’s daily routine. There are different types of depression, and it may take a consultation with a mental health professional to determine what type you’re experiencing. But, depression makes every task or chore seem monumental and impossible to complete. This includes work, school, social obligations, relationships, sports, and any other hobbies.

A key difference between sadness and depression — when you’re sad, you will still be able to laugh, feel good, and have hope for tomorrow. With depression, those experiences are much more difficult to come by.

Diagnosing Depression

The first step to accepting depression in your daily life is by receiving a diagnosis. Mental health issues often go overlooked by the individual, and it takes a friend or family member to bring them to your attention. Whether you’ve noticed a change in your mood, emotions, and motivation, or your friends or family members do, acknowledging that something is not right is a great first step.

It can be helpful to keep a log or journal of your depressive symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them, so you can share the information with your doctor.

Depression Diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis of depression can be done by a mental health professional through a psych evaluation. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person can be diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) by experiencing five of the symptoms listed above that last two weeks at a minimum.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder is diagnosed when an individual has a persistently low mood, lack of interest in activities, feelings of excessive guilt and worthlessness, and lack of energy, among many more. Also known as clinical depression, individuals with MDD can have a range of symptoms and may be diagnosed anywhere on the spectrum from moderate depression to severe depression.

This is a very different experience from sadness, where you may experience intense despair or be in a depressed mood, but you likely won’t have doubts about whether your life is worth living.

The other depressive disorders include mood disorder, substance abuse, mild depression (formerly known as dysthymia), or persistent depressive disorder.

Treating Depression

There are very effective treatment options to help individuals experiencing depression. Therapy modalities for depression include talking therapy, medication, and counseling.

Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy)

Talk therapy has impressive benefits for individuals who undergo regular treatment with a professional. Within a talk therapy session, the common interventions used for depression are:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and associated behaviors. Many with depression struggle with negative thoughts and it affects behavior in a vicious cycle. CBT works to reframe thoughts and behaviors.

CBT can be particularly effective when paired with medication. In some studies, CBT is actually more effective than medication alone and helps prevent future relapses.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy teaches patients to identify, accept, and regulate emotions. Individuals learn to have an open dialogue with their negative thoughts and emotions, so they can make positive changes in their lives.

Treatment for depression comes in several ways, depending on the individual’s preferences and what their doctor thinks is best. Support groups are common for those who suffer from depression. Other formats include individual therapy, family therapy, and couples therapy.


Antidepressants have been shown to be most effective for those struggling with moderate to severe depression. Antidepressants are designed to make patients feel emotionally stable and reduce symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and prevent suicidal thoughts.

Common antidepressants used to treat depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Learning to Cope with Sadness

Sadness can be overwhelming to process, but it’s important for your own mental health to do so when you experience it.

Sadness may result from an unexpected change in your life or as an indication that you need to make lifestyle changes to feel better. Coping with sadness involves acknowledging the feeling, understanding why you’re feeling that way, and letting yourself feel sad.

Can Sadness Turn Into Depression?

When your feelings of sadness continue for more than two weeks and impact your daily life, we highly recommend you seek professional help.

Sadness should not interfere with your ability to function normally, complete your daily tasks, and feel joy. If you notice this is happening, or you start to have suicidal thoughts, contact emergency services immediately.

Sadness & Depression Both Impact Mental Health. Clear Behavioral Health’s Virtual Program Can Help.

Feeling sad and feeling depressed are often linked, but there are very different paths to feeling better. Feeling sad for a long period of time can be a cause for concern, and you certainly don’t have to be depressed to see a therapist. You can experience sadness and grief from the loss of a loved one and find comfort and relief in therapy.

Clear Behavioral Health Virtual Program is here to help. No matter what you’re going through, our team is focused on helping those struggling with their mental health live healthy and purposeful lives. Contact us today.

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