The word “depression” is one of the most commonly misused words in the english language. People use it incorrectly when they are trying to explain feeling sad. But sadness and depression are two very different things. Below, each is defined and key differences are highlighted to help illustrate how sadness and depression differ.
Understanding the difference between depression and sadness
SADNESS is a normal human emotion that is characterized by a state (or states) of feeling unhappy. It is not constant, meaning it comes and goes. One moment you can feel sad, an hour later after being with a friend you may feel happy.
Being sad is a healthy response to unpleasant life events. It’s valuable because it can help you decipher what you want or don’t want. It also helps you feel and understand the reverse emotional state, which is happiness.
Sadness occurs in frequency on a scale that ranges from brief and fleeting moments of sad feelings to severe lengthy periods related to major life traumas. For example, the death of a loved one can make you feel sad for months.
DEPRESSION is a medical condition that affects mood. It’s unclear what specifically causes it, though experts agree it is a physical issue where a variety of factors related to both internal and external processes lead to a neurological chemical imbalance. The most current research suggests that individuals with depression have a 25% smaller brain region for regulating emotion (called the hippocampus).
It is often difficult for individuals who have not experienced depression to understand it, because it’s not something that can be seen or measured. It’s not like other physical ailments, like a broken leg.
Characterizing someone with depression as “sad”, suggests they have the ability to control their mood. That is not the case. They are physically unable to be happy.
- Depression is debilitating. The low mood is so pervasive that it interferes with an individual’s ability to do normal things like: Go to work, concentrate on basic activities like watching a movie, take care of themselves or their family, or want to get out of bed. When you’re sad you can still do basic tasks even if you don’t feel happy.
- Sadness fluctuates. Depression is constant.
- People with depression feel sad. People who are sad do not necessary get depression.
- Individuals with depression have no ability to change their mood. No matter what actions they take, they often still feeling an underlying feeling of emptiness and their mental processes feel slowed.
- Depression makes you feel like you don’t want to live. Sadness makes you feel low but still hopeful. You can recognize that you have a life to live for.
- Sadness doesn’t produce significant weight changes or prolonged periods of sleep changes.
- Sadness does not involve psychotic events like delusions or hallucinations.
- Depression requires multiple forms of treatment that involve nutrition, exercise, self care and many times, medication.