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Does feeling sad mean you are depressed? Here’s how to tell the difference

Published on:29 January 2021, 11:17am IST
If your mood hasn’t been the best, you might be confused if it’s sadness or depression. Read on to know more on how to figure it out.
Geetika Sachdev
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Sadness vs depression: what is the difference? Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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We all experience a flux of emotions every day. Sometimes we are elated, there are other times when we feel down. This isn’t surprising because we can’t be happy all the time, so we are bound to experience many other emotions, including sadness. When things don’t go our way or seem upsetting, then we are bound to get upset. But just like other emotions, sadness is also temporary and goes away with time. That’s the first difference between sadness and depression. 

On the other hand, depression is an illness. Medical experts have revealed that this mental condition impairs social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. If depression isn’t treated, then the symptoms won’t go away anytime soon. 

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Now that we know the basic differences, let’s get down to details. 

The difference between being sad and being depressed

If you are sad, you will feel upset and experience discomfort. Yet, the emotion is experienced for a few moments, and it eventually disappears. You will also have moments when you are able to laugh or be comforted. But if you are depressed, the emotion might not pass. It will also begin to affect all areas of your life. Unlike what most people understand, depression is a mental illness, it isn’t a temporary emotion. 

Here are some important symptoms of depression: 

  • Constant feelings of sadness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest and enthusiasm for things which used to provide pleasure
  • Feelings of deep, unwarranted guilt
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or body aches that do not have a specific cause
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Constant thoughts about death
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
depression
There is more to depression than what meets the eye. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
The criteria to understand if you have depression

Experts use the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 criteria) to diagnose if a patient has depression, or is just sad. That doesn’t mean you do not need to visit a medical professional for proper diagnosis.

The DSM-5 criteria encompasses nine potential symptoms of depression. The intensity of each symptom is also assessed during the process:

  1. Feeling depressed throughout each day on most or all days
  2. Lack of interest and enjoyment in activities you used to find pleasurable
  3. Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
  4. Trouble eating, or eating too much, coupled with weight gain or weight loss
  5. Irritability, restlessness, or agitation
  6. Extreme fatigue
  7. Unwarranted or exaggerated feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  8. Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  9. Suicidal thoughts or actions, or thinking a lot about death and dying
Here’s what puts you at risk

Let’s first understand that depression can be experienced by both men and women at any age. Also, it is not limited to any ethnic background or socio-economic status, because anyone can have it. There are several factors that put a person at risk for depression: 

depression
Don’t give up on them instead talk to them. Image courtesy: Pexels

These include:

  • Early childhood or teenage trauma
  • Inability to cope with a devastating life event, such as the death of a child or spouse, or any situation that causes extreme levels of pain
  • Low self-esteem
  • Family history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder or depression
  • History of substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol
  • Lack of family or community acceptance for identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
  • Those who have struggled with cancer, stroke, chronic pain, or heart disease and faced problems mentally
  • Trouble adjusting to body changes due to catastrophic injury, such as loss of limbs, or paralysis
  • History of prior mental health disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety disorder
  • Lack of a support system, such as friends, family, or coworkers

Sometimes, depression can also be caused by the overuse of certain medications, including beta-blockers, corticosteroids, hormonal medications, as well as statins.


When should you seek help?

If your sadness goes on for more than two weeks, then it’s important to consult a specialist right away. 

In case you experience sadness often, you can make some small lifestyle changes that help you feel better. These include connecting with other people, taking out time for an activity you enjoy, watching your favourite films, engaging in physical activities, eating healthy and trying to get enough sleep. Lifestyle changes can also help if you are going through depression, but these may not be enough. 

Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.