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Depression vs Sadness: How To Figure Out The Difference

Just as a skilled boxer can distinguish a jab from an uppercut, understanding the distinction between depression and sadness is crucial in the ring of mental health. Both pack a punch, but the impact and duration can differentiate a fleeting feeling from a more substantial bout. Understanding the difference between depression vs. sadness can help you recognise when to seek help and how to cope. In this article, we’ll dive into the key differences between the two and how to recognise them.

Depression vs. Sadness: Recognising the Differences

Have you ever asked yourself, “Am I depressed or sad?” You’re not alone. While the line between sadness and depression can be blurry, there are some key differences to look out for.

Sadness

Sadness is a transient emotion, a response to an event or situation, often described as feeling down, blue, or gloomy. It’s a natural response to loss, disappointment, or stress. However, seek support if sadness persists for two weeks or more and starts interfering with daily life.

Depression

On the other hand, depression transcends a fleeting emotion. It’s an overwhelming, persistent state characterised by a myriad of depression symptoms, including:

  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Helplessness and hopelessness
  • Low energy
  • Persistent low mood or sadness
  • Sleep disturbances

Individual experiences with depression can vary, but many describe it as a constant weight, a pervasive darkness that affects every aspect of life. Emotions become dull, pleasure feels distant, and even simple tasks become monumental challenges. Depression can feel like a persistently low mood that doesn’t lift even when good things happen.

What are the Risk Factors For Depression?

There’s no single cause of depression. Instead, it’s a complex interplay of biological, psychological, biological, and social factors that can increase the risk of developing this mental illness.

Some common risk factors include:

  • Genetics: Having a family history of depression or mood disorders increases an individual’s likelihood of experiencing depressive episodes.
  • Brain chemistry: Imbalances in brain chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, may cause depression.
  • Personality traits: People with low self-esteem, pessimistic outlooks, or a tendency towards perfectionism may be more susceptible to developing depression.
  • Trauma: Experiencing significant trauma can trigger episodes of depression in some individuals.
  • Chronic health conditions: Medical conditions like chronic pain, cancer, and heart disease can lead to the development of depression.
  • Substance abuse: Drug and alcohol use can increase the risk of developing depression, as well as worsening existing symptoms.
  • Life events: Major life changes or stressful events like burnout, job loss, divorce, or grief over the death of a loved one can trigger or worsen depression.

It’s important to note that having one or more risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean someone will develop depression. Similarly, not having any risk factors doesn’t guarantee immunity from the condition.

Types of Depression

Depression isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are several types, each with distinct characteristics or durations, affecting individuals differently. Here are some common types of depression.

Cyclothymia

A person who consistently undergoes fluctuating and unstable moods could receive a diagnosis of cyclothymia. These mood swings may involve episodes of depression and joy, although they may not meet the criteria to diagnose bipolar disorder in terms of severity or duration.

Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder)

Bipolar disorder involves extreme mood swings, including episodes of mania and depression. Mania is an intense and elevated mood that can include feelings of:

  • Excessive energy
  • Impulsivity
  • Invincibility
  • Impulsivity
  • Psychosis

Persistent Depression Disorder (Dysthymia)

Persistent depressive disorder is a chronic form of depression that lasts for two years or longer. Someone with this condition may have constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness, along with other symptoms commonly found in major depression. However, the intensity of these symptoms may not be as severe as those experienced in major depression. People with this type of depression may also experience periods of normal mood, but these are usually brief.

Prenatal or Postnatal Depression

Prenatal or postnatal depression can occur during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. Around one in 10 women will have depression during pregnancy. A combination of biological factors, hormonal changes, and psychological issues can lead to depression. The condition can also affect caregivers and partners.

Symptoms of prenatal or postnatal depression may include:

  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Extreme sadness, anxiety, or irritability
  • Low energy and motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Tearfulness
  • Trouble sleeping

It’s important for women experiencing depression during pregnancy or postpartum to seek treatment, as it can affect the child’s health and wellbeing.

Psychotic Depression

This condition is a severe form of depression accompanied by symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. Symptoms may occur during a depressive episode or independently. People with this type of depression may have difficulty functioning in daily life and must seek treatment from a mental health professional.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD follows a seasonal pattern, with symptoms appearing during winter when there is less natural sunlight. It’s often associated with a lack of exposure to vitamin D, which can affect hormone regulation and mood.

When Should I Seek Help For My Low Mood?

Seek help if your low mood persists for an extended period, affecting your daily life, work, and relationships, or if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts. Depression isn’t something to go through alone, and seeking support is a positive step toward healing.

Can Therapy Help With Sadness?

Absolutely. Therapy provides a supportive environment to:

  • Process emotions
  • Develop coping strategies
  • Gain insights into your thoughts and behaviours
  • Learn self-care techniques
  • Identify underlying issues contributing to your feelings of sadness

Individual and group therapies can help navigate sadness, providing tools to manage emotions and fostering resilience. While experiencing sadness or depression isn’t uncommon, consult a mental health professional when symptoms persist.

Depression treatment options vary based on the type and severity of depression but may include a combination of medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, or alternative treatments like ketamine-assisted healing.

Conventional Treatment Approaches For Depression

Conventional depression treatments include medication and psychotherapy to manage symptoms.

Medication

Your provider may prescribe antidepressants to balance neurotransmitters in the brain.

These medications may take several weeks to be fully effective, and side effects such as weight gain, nausea, or sexual dysfunction are possible.

Some common antidepressants include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs cause serotonin levels to rise, influencing mood regulation. Examples include escitalopram (Lexapro), sertraline (Zoloft), and citalopram (Celexa).
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Like SSRIs, SNRIs increase serotonin levels while increasing levels of norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. Examples include venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and duloxetine (Cymbalta, Irenka).
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs block the reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin, increasing their levels in the brain. Examples include amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor).
  • Atypical antidepressants: These medications work by affecting different neurotransmitters. Examples include noradrenaline and dopamine reuptake inhibitors like bupropion (Wellbutrin).

Work closely with a mental health provider when starting or changing medication to monitor side effects and adjust dosages as needed.

Psychotherapy (Talk therapy)

Talk therapy is another effective treatment. It can help individuals process their thoughts and emotions, learn coping skills, and make positive changes in behaviour.

Common therapies used for depression include:

Alternative Therapies

While medication and talk therapy are effective, there are alternative therapies that may provide added benefits for treating depression.

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (DTMS)

DTMS is a non-invasive procedure involving magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for treating depression.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

This type of treatment is for individuals who have depression and a substance abuse disorder. It involves addressing both issues simultaneously, as they often go hand in hand.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

This method involves guided eye movements to cope with and process traumatic experiences that may contribute to depression.

Ketamine-Assisted Therapy

Ketamine is a medication commonly used for anaesthesia, but it has also shown promise in treating depression and other mood disorders.

Lifestyle Psychiatry

Lifestyle psychiatry focuses on the impact of lifestyle habits, such as sleep, diet, exercise, and stress management, on mental health.

For instance, taking 5-hydroxytryptophan supplements may elevate serotonin levels in the brain, helping alleviate depressive symptoms.¹ A 2020 study also found a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and depression.²

Making healthy lifestyle changes helps improve your overall wellbeing and potentially decrease symptoms of depression.

Depression vs. Sadness: A Quick Recap

Now, let’s recap depression vs sadness. On one side, we have depression, a serious mental health disorder that requires treatment and can significantly affect daily functioning. On the other side, we have sadness, a normal emotion everyone experiences from time to time.

While they may share some similarities in symptoms, it’s important to recognise the differences between the two and seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with depression. Treatment options are available, including therapy, medication, dual diagnosis treatment, and lifestyle changes.

Holistic Treatment Options Offered By APN London

At APN London, we believe in treating the whole person, not just their symptoms. We also understand that everyone is unique, and their mental health needs require personalised attention.

Our programmes include:

If you or someone you know is experiencing prolonged sadness or struggling with depression, reach out for support. Call us at 0203 984 7699 or complete our online contact form. We’re committed to helping you achieve lasting, positive change in your life.

References

  • Maffei ME. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Natural Occurrence, Analysis, Biosynthesis, Biotechnology, Physiology and Toxicology. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Dec 26;22(1):181. doi: 10.3390/ijms22010181. PMID: 33375373; PMCID: PMC7796270, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7796270.
  • Menon V, Kar SK, Suthar N, Nebhinani N. Vitamin D and Depression: A Critical Appraisal of the Evidence and Future Directions. Indian J Psychol Med. 2020 Jan 6;42(1):11-21. doi: 10.4103/IJPSYM.IJPSYM_160_19. PMID: 31997861; PMCID: PMC6970300, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6970300.
  • Maffei ME. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Natural Occurrence, Analysis, Biosynthesis, Biotechnology, Physiology and Toxicology. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Dec 26;22(1):181. doi: 10.3390/ijms22010181. PMID: 33375373; PMCID: PMC7796270, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7796270.
  • Menon V, Kar SK, Suthar N, Nebhinani N. Vitamin D and Depression: A Critical Appraisal of the Evidence and Future Directions. Indian J Psychol Med. 2020 Jan 6;42(1):11-21. doi: 10.4103/IJPSYM.IJPSYM_160_19. PMID: 31997861; PMCID: PMC6970300, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6970300.