The difference between sadness and depression

We all get sad sometimes. Because life happens and we have feelings about it.

Like when Game of Thrones ended and it was crap. Or when someone you like posts a racist meme on Facebook. Or when I ripped a hole in the crotch of my maternity jeans 10 months after giving birth and I had to finally stop wearing them.

But how do you know when sadness is a problem? Pull up a hot cup of something and let’s have us a chat.

What is sadness?

Sadness is a feeling that feels like poop. It’s a vibration in your body - And not the fun, Marky Mark kind. Rather, it’s the kind that makes you want to eat way too many carbs. And by you, I mean me.

Sadness is part of being human.

You can’t avoid sadness. And you don’t necessarily want to. If you never feel sad, you might just be a psychopath. So if you feel sad, congrats! You’re a human being! And also not a psychopath!

How do you “treat” sadness?

So, technically sadness doesn’t need treatment. Hence, the air quotes. And bear with me while we do a little detour about feelings in general.

Healthy, human emotions are healthy. Just because they feel bad doesn’t mean you need to run away from them. In fact, this can lead to other problems. See also: overeating, over drinking, overspending, overporning (not a word), and other kinds of self-medicating behavior. One of the best things you can do is learn how to feel your feelings. End rant. And thank you for listening to my Ted Talk.

Back to sadness - It will usually go away over time with healthy coping strategies, like:

  • Crying

  • Venting to someone

  • Giving yourself time to heal

  • Doing things you enjoy

  • Spending time with loved ones

  • Practicing gratitude

What is depression?

Depression is a whole other animal. Depression will knock you on your butt. It’s sadness plus a cocktail of other gnarly feelings, like:

  • Hopelessness

  • Low motivation

  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy

  • Irritability

  • Desire to be alone

And then, if that’s not enough fun, you get a whole host of physical symptoms, like:

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Changes in appetite (either being more or less hungry than usual)

  • Changes in sleep (either sleeping a lot of hardly at all)

  • Fatigue

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Unexplained illness or pain

“But Erica and Mark,” you say, “I just went through a break-up/death of a loved one/job loss/insert unfortunate life event and I have all those symptoms! Am I depressed?” Well, it depends! It’s totally normal to feel like this after an upsetting situation. These feelings might go away on their own. But if these symptoms last more than two weeks, you might be looking at a case of depression.

How do you treat depression?

Unlike sadness, you can’t meditate, vent or essential oils your way into feeling better. Those things can definitely help and we recommend you take care of yourself, but professional help is amazing. Trust me, I know.

We’ve had a long-standing “joke” in our family about my hatred for winter. Every year when the days get short, I stop working out. I sleep a lot more. I eat lots of carbs. And I’m super moody.

Three years ago, I realized I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - a type of depression connected to the changing seasons. Most people get SAD during the winter, but that’s not always the case. I’m a winter SAD gal.

After my “aha” self-diagnosed moment I questioned why I always tried to gut it out each year. Hello? There’s this magical thing called TREATMENT! I met with my doctor and got this amazing thing called medication.

And as a therapist, I’ve seen the magic happen from the other side too. I’ve helped a lot of people over the last 16 years. So, if you or someone you know struggles with any kind of depression, help is available. And it works. Maybe that looks like therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

How are sadness and depression different?

Sadness vs Depression.png

Depression and sadness are like the first and last seasons of Game of Thrones. The characters are the same, but one is really painful. Consider these differences:

  • Duration - Depression lasts longer (more than two weeks)

  • Feelings - Depression includes sadness plus hopelessness, irritability, loss of motivation and more super yuck feelings

  • Ability to function - Depression can keep you from doing daily tasks

  • Cause - Sadness is usually tied to an event but depression can be caused by genetics, events, or a combination of those two

  • Treatment - Sadness improves with time and self-care but depression needs professional help

If you or someone in your life is struggling with depression, know that help is available. You can call us, contact your doctor or find a therapist through your insurance company or sites like Psychology Today.

And if you’re thinking about suicide, get help right away. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. People care about you. You’re not alone.