What is the difference between feeling sad and having depression?

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Even in today’s world where approximately 350 million people worldwide are affected by depression, it is still a struggle to acknowledge being depressed and not to disregard it as merely feeling sad. This confusion between the two common psychological states leads to neglect to ‘depression’ that is a mental illness which requires treatment and overreaction to ‘sadness’ which is a basic human emotion.

Thus, it is very important that one knows the difference between sadness and depression, and how to treat them.

Why do we feel sad?

Sadness is considered as a basic human emotion along with happiness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. It is a natural response to certain experiences of hurt or pain be it psychological, emotional or physical. It is considered as an awakening, a reminder of what matters to us and what gives our life meaning. Feeling of disadvantage, loss, despair, sorrow, helplessness, and disappointment are usually associated with feeling sad.

Even though sadness is always considered as a negative emotion it is not so, as many people watch sad movies or listen to sad music because it’s soothing for them. Some of the positive attributes of sadness are that it leads to thoughtfulness, resilience, alertness and many times motivations to do better.

What is depression?

Depression which is many times disregarded as a mere state of short-term melancholy is a diagnosable mental health condition. It can be a result of a non-adaptive reaction to a painful event and suppressing of one’s emotion. A person who is in a depressed state usually feels numb, goes through shame, self-blame, and self-hatred, all of which interfere with a person’s social functioning, physical health along with mental and emotional health.

Depression can occur in both men and women of any age group due to many reasons. And even though one cannot really pinpoint one particular reason for being depressed some of the likely reasons are:
1. Childhood or teenage trauma
2. Low self-esteem
3. Lack of acceptance from family, friends, and society
4. Inability to cope from devastating events like death
5. Continuous exposure to violence, abuse, and neglect
6. Depression can run in families.

Depression is caused by the suppression of emotions and not letting them out in a healthy way, and to a person who is depressed life seems hopeless. Feeling sad and acting out on emotions in a safe manner keeps us more grounded and makes us feel more like ourselves.

The reason for feeling sad can be pinpointed unlike the reason for being depressed and a sad person still hopes for the future and may consciously decide to change to an unhappy mood. Sadness doesn’t interfere with over of functioning of a person be it social or related to health as it is a short term state, unlike depression which may last months or even years if not treated in time.

Some of the symptoms that make it easy to recognize if a person is depressed or not are:

1. Feeling irritable, restless, agitated and depressed most of the time
2. Losing interest in activities which once were enjoyable
3. Trouble in sleeping or sleeping too much
4. Significant changes in appetite and weight unrelated to dieting
5. Feeling fatigued, sluggish and having low energy most of the days
6. An unwanted feeling of guilt and worthlessness
7. Not being able to focus or concentrate and lacking creativity
8. The inability of making decisions
9. Having suicidal thoughts or thinking a lot about death and dying

It is very important for a person who is in depression to get therapy and proper treatment as depression is a mental illness and not an emotion. It is among the most treatable of mental disorders. A proper therapy under the guidance of a health professional after overall evaluations, interviews, and physical examinations can provide a great result.

There is a big difference between feeling sad and being depressed as one is a basic human emotion and other a mental illness that requires treatment and therapy. The awareness of this difference and the general awareness related to mental health is very important and necessary too.

So if you think you or any of your loved one is going through depression do seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional for diagnosis and therapy as depression is an extremely common mental illness with many treatments.

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