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7 Ways to Tell the Difference Between Sadness and Depression (and What to Do)


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I feel so sad, all the time - Does that mean I’m depressed? How to tell the difference between sadness and depression.

To understand how to tell the difference between sadness and depression, consider a sudden rainstorm. It could be a side effect of a hurricane – but it’s also possible that it’s simply rain. Although they appear to be the same meteorological event, there’s an immense difference in their effects. One causes real, lasting damage. The other one is simply a damper on your day.

Depression is a hurricane. It’s powerful, destructive, and overwhelming; devastating even to the most stable and lasting architecture. Oftentimes, it requires outside assistance to recover from. Sadness is a symptom of it, but there is so much more happening beneath the surface.

Sadness is an emotion. While it is no less uncomfortable, its effects are typically not as devastating. Being sad is usually a temporary state that heals with time. It doesn’t usually require intensive care.

If we’re still unsure, we can ask ourselves these 7 questions to clarify whether we are suffering from a passing feeling, or a mental illness that may require some extra help.

How to Tell the Difference Between Sadness and Depression


1. Are my hobbies and interests still exciting to me?

People suffering from depression usually experience losing interest in things they once loved. Sadness may make us feel low energy and less likely to partake in our hobbies, but once we begin, they usually cheer us up. If a depressed person makes an attempt to engage in something they normally enjoy, it’s possible that it will have the complete opposite effect.

2. Am I in physical pain?

Headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, muscular and joint pain are all symptomatic of depression. Although one can feel sadness and physical pain simultaneously, they are probably not related. To discern, depression pain is often accompanied by feeling “ill”.

3. Has my appetite changed?

If we’ve been gaining or losing weight, eating significantly more or skipping meals, it’s feasible that we’re experiencing a symptom of depression. When we’re sad, we may see minor practical changes in what we eat. But we’re less likely to binge or become malnourished.

4. Am I worried, or am I anxious?

Worry is a familiar feeling for most of us, and it can strike at any time. We worry about our loved ones, about our performance at work, and about our finances. Sadness can induce feelings of worry; especially regret. But people struggling with depression feel worry physically- this manifests as shortness of breathing, chest pains, dizziness, and sometimes even fainting. This is anxiety. Anxiety can occur without depression, but it’s unlikely to be triggered by a few days of sadness.

5. Do people make me feel happier, or more alone?

If we’re depressed, it’s common to feel isolated. Being around others, especially folks who are happy and seemingly well put together, only distances us further from reality. We have a tendency to lock ourselves away from others. This is a slippery slope- the more we tuck ourselves away, the lonelier we are. When we’re sad, being around others has the opposite effect. Airing our grievances (especially to loved ones) often helps us gain perspective, and can effectively and easily shift our moods.

6. How long have I been sad?

Depressive episodes can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Sadness is a short event, and can be experienced intermittently. Depression is presumably consecutive and long lasting, building up over a series of many days in a row.

7. Have I recently considered ending my life?

Sad people rarely consider suicide as a solution to their problems. Depression, however, is consistently linked to suicidal thoughts. If you have been contemplating ending your life, contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 1-800-273-8255. 14.8 million Americans are affected by depression in any given year- you are not alone.

What Should I Do?

There are countless resources available for people who are depressed. The American Psychological Association helps educate the public about the benefits of working with a psychologist to alleviate the symptoms of depression. For those who find themselves to be inconvenienced or have very little time for therapy, online websites such as Talkspace offer digital sessions and consultations with real people. And if you’re not yet ready to talk to somebody, this blog offers personal stories from other folks who are suffering and want you to know that you’re not alone.

The most important part of knowing how to tell the difference between sadness and depression may be having hope. Even though we feel defeated when we’re sad, depression causes utter hopelessness that may make us feel that life seems meaningless. This is a symptom- a trick being played on us by our brains. It is nowhere close to the truth.

We must remember to speak candidly about our mental health to prevent such deceitful ideas from becoming our reality. Whether it’s a loved one or a professional- reaching out is the next step.

If you’ve just determined that your symptoms are indicating sadness, check out this article where we discuss what to do when you’re sad. You also may find this article on pain and personal growth helpful as well.

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