What is the difference between being sad and being depressed?

In this weeks installment of my ongoing series I am going to answer the question: “What is the difference between being sad and being depressed?”  Everyone has been sad at one point in their life or another.  Sadness is a natural emotion that has many known causes; the death of a loved one, an argument with family or a friend, a bad review at work, or a bad grade in school are just some of the many reasons a person may experience sadness.

Depression is a longer lasting emotion.  In 2012 6.9% of the US population experienced a depressive episode.  People can experience depression in varying ways, but to be diagnosed with depression a person must experience at least 5 of the following symptoms over a two-week period, and at least one symptom must be either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities:

  1. Depressed mood most of day, nearly every day.
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in activities.
  3. Significant weight loss (when not dieting).
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
  5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day.
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
  8. Diminished ability to think/concentrate or indecisiveness nearly every day.
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or suicide plan/attempt.

The above symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in a person’s life, and cannot be attributable to physiological effects such as a substance or other medical condition.

Whereas sadness will get better with time, depression often requires outside assistance from a professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist.

I have heard people describe depression in a lot of different ways.  Some say it feel like they are numb and have little emotion or affect.  Others, like me, feel a crushing sadness and at times it feels as though even moving my arm, or clicking a button on a mouse is too tiring to bother with.  While sadness stays in the mind, depression shares the discomfort with the body.

If you are experiencing depression, please talk to a professional.  If you are suicidal, please contact the suicide helpline.

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