Everyone around the world experience sadness or depression at some point in their lives. However, recognizing the difference between a diagnosis of depression and the emotion of sadness can help a person process both in a healthful way. When you’re sadder than usual, you might say you feel “depressed.” But how do you know when extreme sadness crosses over into clinical depression?
It is normal to experience feelings of sadness and despair in response to adverse life events. Such events could include loss, major life changes, stress, or disappointment. In most cases, the sad feelings resolve as you come to terms with the changes in your life. In situations such as bereavement, these feelings may persist for months and return at significant times, such as birthdays and anniversaries related to the lost loved one. Provided you have times when you can enjoy things, however, this sadness is not a sign of depression.
What’s the difference between sadness and depression?
Feeling sad is a natural reaction to situations that case emotional upset or pain. A number of life events can leave people feeling sad or unhappy. The loss or absence of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or income, financial trouble, or issues at home can all affect mood in a negative way.
But like other emotions, sadness is temporary and fades with time. In this way, sadness differs from depression. However, a person experiencing sadness can usually find some relief from crying, venting, or talking out frustrations.
Sadness usually passes with time. If it does not pass, or if the person becomes unable to resume normal function, this could be a sign of depression.
If low mood gets worse or lasts longer than 2 weeks, the person should talk to a mental health professional.
Depression is a mental disorder that has an overpowering effect on many parts of a person’s life. It can occur in people of any gender or age and alters behaviors and attitudes.
In many respects depression symptoms according to the DSM-5 are similar to the ICD-10 depression symptoms. Here are the symptoms of major depressive disorder in the DSM-5:
- Depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks.
- This mood represents a change from the person’s baseline.
- Impaired function: social, occupational, educational.
- Specific symptoms, at least 5 of these 9, present nearly every day:
- Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
- Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day
- Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite
- Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Change in activity: Psycho-motor agitation or retardation
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Guilt/worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness
- Suicidal: Thoughts of death or suicide, or has suicide plan
Depression is treatable.
Medications and psychotherapy are effective for most people with depression. Many people with depression also benefit from seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional.