Distinguishing Between Depression and Sadness

A girl standing with a book alone in the woods

Continuing our series on depression, we will focus on sadness and discuss how the two are related. According to the reports by the American Association for Anxiety Disorders. Depression is a debilitating condition and can alter the quality of life of anyone who suffers from it, but how does this relate to depression?. A person may exhibit many symptoms, including anxiety, sadness, higher irritability, etc. Even though sadness can be part of depression, people often confuse the two terms and use them interchangeably.

So What is the Difference?

It is a feeling, an emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. However, depression is a medical condition that is characterized by sadness and multiple other symptoms. It’s essential for people to understand that the two phenomena are fundamentally different in order to seek help when need be. 

In simple terms, depression and sadness are not synonymous; one is a mental disorder while the other is a naturally occurring feeling. A chemical imbalance causes depression in the brain, and a traumatic or painful incident can trigger sadness. Sadness can fizzle out, but depression doesn’t. No matter how pervasive the sadness feels in the wake of a tragic accident, it will dissolve after some time. However, it is important to note that any traumatic event can be the triggering factor for depression, with sorrow as one of its symptoms.

Positive things can be done to manage both sadness and depression, for instance, if a person has a horrible boss and it induces sorrow in them, thinking about a day out with friends or going away for a day or two could bring relief to the sufferer. This method can help reduce anxiety, whether if it is just sadness or you are going through a depressive episode. 

However, severe depression may need more positive inducing factors. And that’s a main difference between sadness and depression.

 Sadness Symptoms

Sadness can, at times, can be all-encompassing, as if it has taken over a person’s life. And that’s natural. When people are hurt or faced with unpleasant circumstances, they can feel bad about it, but when those circumstances start disappearing or settling, people start feeling better. Even in times of extreme sadness or temporary depression, people can smile about things that make them happy. 

Depression Symptoms

Depression is an abnormal state of being. It is physiological, which affects a person’s mood, behavior, thought processes, perceptions, and even appetite. It’s a psychological disorder that colors every aspect of a patient’s life. Here are some of the most common symptoms of depression.

Upset woman in front of computer
  • Feeling of despair
  • Sadness
  • Feeling of discouragement
  • A loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • An overpowering lack of motivation
  • Receding self-esteem
  • Feelings of self-doubt

A person suffering from depression likes to stay isolated and doesn’t want to take part in social activities, such as hanging out with friends or spending time with family.

If these symptoms last for more than two weeks, then a person may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, commonly known as depression.

Some common signs of MDD are:

  • Low levels of energy, lethargy
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Continuous depressed mood for days
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Feeling  of worthlessness or excessive levels of guilt
  • Inability to make decisions and concentrate
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Recurrent episodes of uncontrollable crying

Anybody who experiences any 5 of the mentioned symptoms is most likely suffering from depression. However, to make a formal diagnosis, the doctor must link all the signs to depression and not to a different underlying mental condition like substance abuse.

Depression hampers a person’s ability to get through the day. If you have depression, then you must often find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning.

Biology of Depression

The nerve cells, known as neurons, communicate with one another within the nervous system via a chemical known as a neurotransmitter. When there is a discrepancy in the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, the brain experiences a chemical imbalance.

In the case of depression, the brain encounters a lack of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for communicating the feelings of happiness and ecstasy. The brain senses or registers the feeling of joy in the presence of serotonin; otherwise, it doesn’t recognize the feeling. When there is a shortage of serotonin in the brain, a person experiences symptoms of depression. And those symptoms can only be treated with a proper treatment plan. 

Treatment of Depression

If a person experiences symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, then they should seek professional help, because unlike sadness, depression doesn’t go away without a proper treatment plan.

The most common treatment routes prescribed by psychiatrists are


To balance out the chemical imbalance in the brain during an episode of depression, doctors use drugs in patients with depression. The most common type of antidepressant medicine given to treat depression is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs increase the level of serotonin in the brain, which leads to mood enhancement and remission of the symptoms of depression.

SSRIs do help people with depression, but they can also have some adverse side effects. In some cases, they can aggravate the symptoms of depression and may even lead to the ideation of suicide in younger people.

Due to the adverse side effects of these medications, they come with black box warnings to ensure people know about the impact before consuming the medicine.

Psychotherapy and Counseling

Psychotherapy is talking with a trained professional who helps a patient tackle their symptoms of depression. Depression patients can take therapy with or without medication.

Woman holding hands with others

A therapist helps people with depression in identifying their trigger points and come up with coping mechanisms for those trigger factors.

In extreme cases, where a patient attempts suicide or harm themselves, psychotherapists are crucial to calm such patients down and help them deal with their severe symptoms.


Sadness and depression are two separate things. Both can occur independently of each other; however, depression needs proper treatment, while sadness can go away on its own.