Sad or Depressed
Sad or Depressed
Dear Tacit,

What is the difference between feeling sad and being depressed?

Signed: Sad or Depressed?

Dear Sad or Depressed,

Sadness and depression are two emotional states that can often be confused due to some overlapping symptoms.  People often misuse the terms “depressed” and “sad” when referring to a feeling of despair, grief, loneliness and general unhappiness.  And this can sometimes lead a person to overreact to a very normal emotional state – or underreact to a mental health condition that requires support.

There are distinct experiences – different characteristics – with a feeling of sadness or depression.  And understanding these differences is crucial for recognizing when someone might need professional help (for their depression) rather than being able to work through their feelings with the support of loved ones (if they are experiencing normal sadness).

Sadness is a normal human emotion and a natural response to certain situations, events, or losses.  It is directly related to an identifiable cause or event (or sometimes, multiple factors) such as the death of a loved one, a breakup, moments of failure, or disappointments in life.  Sadness is usually temporary and tends to diminish over time as a person processes their emotions and adapts to the situation.

While feeling sad, a person can still enjoy other activities and may still experience a range of different emotions, including happiness, joy, and contentment.  Distractions in life are a welcome relief from the sad feelings one might be experiencing, and will be able to help neutralize or improve a person’s mood, even just slightly or momentarily.

Sadness generally does not interfere significantly with a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks or maintain relationships, in the long-term.  A person might have short-term challenges (like loss of appetite, sleep issues, low motivation, concentration issues, etc) – but these symptoms do not tend to last for excessive periods of time.  Sadness often improves with time and support from loved ones and when the underlying cause is or the contributing factors are resolved.

Depression is a psychological condition characterized by a persistent and pervasive feeling of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness and/or a lack of interest or pleasure in activities. It can be triggered by a certain event, or it can occur seemingly without any apparent reason.  Depression lasts for an extended period – typically for at least 2 weeks and sometimes for months or even years, if left untreated. With depression, the feelings of sadness and emptiness do not go away, even when a person’s circumstance improves.

Depression can significantly impact an individual’s daily life, making it difficult for a person to find enjoyment, pleasure or meaning in activities they once enjoyed.  It is a condition that permeates their thoughts, emotions, behaviours and sensitivities about everything.

Depression significantly impacts an individual’s ability to function in daily life – this includes work functioning, social interactions, and self-care.  It can lead to changes in sleep patterns, appetite, energy levels, and overall motivation. The physical challenges experienced with depression are longer lasting and more severe than those that accompany bouts of sadness, and can lead to other physical damage/harm to a person’s body.

Depressed individuals may have difficulty concentrating, experience feelings of worthlessness or guilt, experience a “numbed out” pattern, and may have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.  A person can lose their sense of purpose in life.  Depression often worsens over time, and requires professional help (from a doctor and/or a therapist) and some lifestyle changes.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a sadness that just doesn’t seem to be improving, or with clear signs of depression (even if able to function in every-day life), reach out and talk to a therapist who understands.  A person does not need to suffer or to try to “wait it out”, with the hope that the feelings they are experiencing will magically get better with time (with depression, they won’t).  Knowing how to effectively manage these feelings is essential in ensuring that they do not get stuffed in our emotional baggage compartment and carried with us for years longer than is necessary.

Take Care!

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