How to Distinguish Sadness From Depression

Given the way we use the words “sadness” and “depression” in everyday life and pop culture, it can be hard to tell one from the other. Even though they may seem similar, they are not. Experts say it’s like comparing one star to a constellation. Understanding what distinguishes sadness from depression is important, as it can help people know when to seek professional help and prevent unnecessary suffering.

Experts who spoke to Lifehacker described sadness as a normal emotional state that all people experience in their lives after loss, disappointment, or other upsetting events. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental health condition characterized by a persistent sad mood or loss of pleasure for most of the day and almost every day for at least two weeks, according to Dr. Catherine Gordon, clinical psychologist and author of the book.Workbook on Suicidal Thoughts .

One of the biggest differences between sadness and depression is how long a person’s experience lasts. Dr. Bedford Palmer, a California licensed psychologist and founder ofDeeper Than Color , says sadness is characteristic of a certain moment.

“It can be a melancholy that lasts a day. Maybe the weather has changed now,” Palmer said. “It might even be something that, frankly, isn’t all that bad. Sadness is something that you can feel and appreciate, like “I’m sad because this happened” and that’s appropriate.”

However, depression is much more complex and can seriously affect a person’s life. Palmer explained that depression is a collection of symptoms that includes sadness, but other things also happen. People may lose their appetite, sleep poorly, experience stomach discomfort, trouble concentrating, or not enjoy things they normally enjoy.

In these cases, a person experiences something more than sadness, which is difficult for him to cope with on his own.

How is depression different from a sad or bad day?

Dr. Jessie Gold, a psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in an email that health professionals look for a variety of symptoms, not just sadness, when diagnosing depression. For a major depressive episode , which consists of intense and overwhelming symptoms that interfere with a person’s daily life, the symptoms must have been present for two weeks.

According to Gold, this criterion emphasizes that “people have reactions to life events, or even just to a hard day’s work, and they don’t need to be pathologised.”

“Many people feel sad, this is a normal reaction, but it is important to notice what else is happening to you when you are sad, how long these symptoms last and whether they interfere with your daily life. “everyday life,” Gold said. “It is important”.

In addition, depression can manifest in many ways other than sadness, and sometimes people with depression may not feel sad, Palmer notes. Depression can cause people to have trouble concentrating or become very irritable. It can also lead to people being low-motivated or turning away from others.

Sadness is instant, but depression can be hard to get out of.

Palmer notes that it’s helpful to think of depression as if it were on a spectrum. Simply put, someone can have mild depression all the way to major depression. What makes these episodes different is their level of intensity, which refers to how they interfere with a person’s life and how long they last.

“It’s not like listening to a sad song and feeling melancholy. It’s even different than losing a family member and being very, very sad for a month, but then coming out of it and feeling a little better week after week,” he said. “Depression is not related to an emotional trigger or distance in time from an emotional trigger. You won’t get out of it and feel good until the biological causes of depression are changed naturally or with medication.”

However, this does not mean that sadness cannot affect people greatly. Gordon, a psychologist and author, wrote in an email that sadness can sometimes have a greater effect on people, even if they aren’t depressed. For example, she explained that when sadness is associated with grief, it can affect people’s lives and moods for longer periods of time, even if they don’t have depression.

People who don’t treat depression are at risk of another episode

In our society, loved ones usually tell people who are going through depression to deal with it, or that it’s part of life. Gordon explains that sometimes depression goes away on its own. According to her, this may be due to the passage of time, a change in life circumstances, or the so-called “spontaneous remission” without knowing the cause. But this does not mean that a person cannot experience another depression in the future.

“[If] depression goes away on its own without treatment and learning new coping strategies, it increases the risk of the depression coming back at some point,” Gordon said.

Palmer agreed and said that often people with depression go down to the valley and then come back. The effects of depression pass and they may feel better, perhaps even for a long time. But depression is a different story. Palmer compared susceptibility to a physical ailment, such as asthma. You may not have had a seizure in years, Palmer said, but that doesn’t mean the potential for attack isn’t there.

People with depression may have suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts are another important difference between sadness and depression. According to psychiatrist Gold, suicidal thoughts and depression often go hand in hand, and depression is a risk factor for suicide. However, she stressed that not everyone who has suicidal thoughts is depressed. Similarly, not everyone who is depressed has suicidal thoughts.

Gold said she considers suicidal thoughts a serious warning sign when it comes to depression, but also pointed out that for a psychiatrist, thoughts come in varying degrees of severity. These nuances are usually overlooked by friends or family members, but psychiatrists are trained to do so.

“For a psychiatrist, there’s a difference between ‘It would be nice if I just didn’t wake up tomorrow’ and ‘I’ve started saving my medication and I know I’d like to kill myself that way,'” says Gold. said, adding that as suicidal thoughts become more frequent or harder to ignore, psychiatrists become more concerned.

How to know when to ask for help

All of the experts who spoke to Lifehacker stressed that it is important for people to know what their “baseline” — their normal behavior — is and to keep a close eye on any changes. Gold suggests asking questions about specific habits and activities. You usually sleep seven hours, and now you sleep five? Are you eating differently than usual? Are you isolating and don’t want to do things with your friends?

Another important aspect to consider is whether a person’s symptoms worsen, the psychiatrist explained. (For example, if you used to be able to leave the house to visit friends, but now you can’t.) People should also think about how their symptoms affect their lives. Just because you’re still working and going to work or school doesn’t mean you’re okay.

“I see a lot of healthcare professionals and students who say, ‘I go to school and I get good grades’ or ‘I’m going to work and I can still do my job well’ so I can’t be depressed. Gold said. “In my experience, school and work are things that many of us can do for a long time while we are depressed, and these are other areas of our daily lives that [are affected first].”

According to Gold, some people may stop caring about themselves or their home. They may also stop making friends or pay less attention to relationships with partners or children.

Palmer and Gordon note that other warning signs include feeling sad for an extended period of time, such as most of the day or nearly every day for several weeks. People should consider getting help when their emotional state is causing them great distress and is affecting their relationships, work, or school. Suicidal thoughts are also a big and serious warning sign. People experiencing recurrent suicidal thoughts should seek professional help immediately.

How depression is treated

Treatment for depression depends on a variety of factors, including the severity of symptoms, the person’s mental health history, and family mental health history, Gold said. Many people can begin to manage their depression with therapy that allows them to identify causes and triggers for depression, she says. Cognitive behavioral therapy can give people the skills to deal with depression without medication.

However, according to Gold, other people may not get better with therapy alone and will need medication . In such cases, psychiatrists prescribe first-line selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, which are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Research has shown that a combination of medication and therapy is the best treatment option for people with moderate to severe depression.

In general, all the experts who spoke with Lifehacker emphasized that there are many evidence-based treatments that can help people suffering from depression. They also said it’s never too early to ask for help.

“Depression affects many people. It is not the result of weakness or personal defect. It’s a mental health condition for which beneficial treatments are available,” Gordon said. “Please be compassionate to yourself if you are struggling and know that you are worthy of support.”


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