Sadness is a human emotion that all people feel at certain times during their lives. Feeling sad is a natural reaction to situations that cause emotional upset or pain. There are varying degrees of sadness. But like other emotions, sadness is temporary and fades with time. In this way, sadness differs from depression.
Depression is a longer-term mental illness. It impairs social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. Left untreated, symptoms of depression may last for a long time.
Keep reading to learn more about the differences between depression and sadness.
When you’re sad, it may feel all-encompassing at times. But you should also have moments when you are able to laugh or be comforted. Depression differs from sadness. The feelings you have will affect all aspects of your life. It may be hard or even impossible to find enjoyment in anything, including activities and people you used to enjoy. Depression is a mental illness, not an emotion.
Symptoms of depression may include:
constant feelings of sadness
changes in sleeping or eating patterns
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
You may have some of these symptoms if you are sad, but they shouldn’t last more than two weeks. Suicidal thoughts are a sign of depression, not sadness.
How to know if it is sadness or depression
Mental health professionals use the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 criteria) to help determine if someone is sad or depressed. You may receive a diagnosis of depression or persistent depressive disorder if you meet the criteria.
The DSM-5 criteria include nine potential symptoms of depression. The severity of each symptom is also weighed as part of the diagnostic process. The nine symptoms are:
feeling depressed throughout each day on most or all days
lack of interest and enjoyment in activities you used to find pleasurable
trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
trouble eating, or eating too much, coupled with weight gain or weight loss
irritability, restlessness, or agitation
unwarranted or exaggerated feelings of guilt or worthlessness
inability to concentrate or make decisions
suicidal thoughts or actions, or thinking a lot about death and dying
When should you seek help?
Talk to your doctor if you experience sadness for longer than two weeks.
Note if your feelings interfere with your ability to function, take part in life, or experience enjoyment. Speaking to a professional, like a therapist, clergy member, or other trusted person, can be a powerful first step toward recovery.
If you’re experiencing sadness, some minor lifestyle changes may help.
Connect with other people. Make a phone call, take a yoga class, or join a jogging club, knitting circle, or another group that interests you.
Build in time each day for an activity you enjoy.
Watch funny television shows or movies, or read a lighthearted or funny book.
Engage in physical activities or sports.
If you love animals, spend time each day with a furry friend.
Do not self-medicate through the use of drugs or alcohol.
Treat yourself kindly by eating healthy and trying to get enough sleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, try meditating or taking a warm bath before bed.
Simplify your life as best you can.
Lifestyle changes can also help you feel better if you’re experiencing depression. But these changes may not be enough. If you’re depressed, psychological counseling with a professional you trust can make a difference. This type of counseling is also known as talk therapy.
If you’re depressed or suicidal, you can receive inpatient care by staying in a hospital or other therapeutic setting.
Your physician or therapist may prescribe medications for you. There are many different types of antidepressants. You and your doctor will decide which ones you should try. These depend on your needs, family history, allergies, and lifestyle. You may need to try several before you find a treatment plan that works best for you. Sometimes, antidepressants may increase suicidal thoughts. It’s important that you let your doctor know immediately if you experience worsening depression.