Depression vs. Sadness: How to Tell the Difference

The phrase “I feel depressed” is used all too often in today’s society. With social media and the rise of mental illnesses, it has been used so often that people might not even know what they are feeling.

Often, I will be talking to a patient who may have experienced a tough day or gone through a challenging day, and they use the expression “I feel depressed.”

But is it depression? Or is it simply feeling sadness and having an off-day?

To understand whether you are sad or depressed, there are some important things to first comprehend.

The first thing is knowing what causes sadness and what causes depression inside the human body.

The second is to understand the difference in experiences between the two.

There are several differences between sadness and depression that can help to determine which one someone is experiencing. It is essential to know these differences to be adequately addressed to increase one’s mental health.

What defines sadness?

depression vs sadness

Sadness is a natural emotional response to loss. You might feel sad when someone you know dies or if your loved one leaves you for another person. Sadness is an emotion that helps us deal with the pain and hardship of life’s obstacles by giving it a name so we can move on from it.

It will usually occur suddenly and last only a few days before dissipating naturally as time goes on.

The signs that indicate sadness are: feeling tearful, being lethargic, no appetite for food or sex, experiencing weight gain/loss without trying to change our habits to do so, difficulty concentrating on things like work or socializing with others.

Sadness has its benefits because when experienced right after suffering from loss. It can help with the grieving process and lessen the pain over time.

The history of sadness

The thought that sadness is created from an external cause is a relatively new concept.

Let’s take a look at the history of sadness.

As stated in the book Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators, Ancient Greek doctors believed that sadness was a dark fluid inside the body.

According to their humoral system, the human body and soul were controlled by four fluids, called humors.

The balance of these four humors is what directly impacted someone’s health and emotional well-being.

The four humors were: Yellow Bile, Blood, Phlegm, and Black Bile.

Black Bile was the humor that was thought to cause sadness.

The cure to sadness was thought to be through diet and different medical practices by bringing your humors back into balance.

These theories are not exactly correct in terms of sadness. However, they do hold merit in identifying some critical findings in clinical depression.

Drawing comparisons between the ancient Greek thoughts and today’s findings on clinical depression, the research shows that there can be a chemical imbalance in the brain that leads to extreme sadness.

The importance of sadness

Sadness, in its simplest terms, is a reaction to a problematic situation.

While no one likes to feel sad, experiencing sadness is beneficial to the human experience.

Many thinkers believe melancholy is essential in order to gain wisdom and knowledge.

The theory is that the feeling of melancholy allows us to deeply understand other emotions and to have heightened experiences when emotions such as happiness, love, beauty, and achievement arise.

To experience sadness emphasizes the human understanding of something that was or is important to you.

While sadness is essential for the human experience, too much sadness or a feeling of helplessness harms your human experience.

This can be referred to as clinical depression.

What defines depression?

Depression is a more severe form of sadness that often persists for weeks or months with no relief in sight.

Depression affects people’s thoughts and feelings differently from sadness because it can cause people to feel worthless, empty, guilty, apathetic (lacking any enthusiasm), and lifeless.

These symptoms are not only emotionally damaging but physically as well.

Let’s look at the impacts of depression mentally and physically.

Mental impacts

Mental health takes a significant hit from constantly feeling sad and experiencing depression in your daily life.

The cognitive impacts of major depression include:

  • Reduced ability to think or concentrate,
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that used to bring enjoyment,
  • Difficulty making decisions.

Physical impacts:

Depression can be a risk factor for specific physical health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure,
  • Heart disease
  • Digestive disorders such as ulcers
  • Chronic pain conditions (headaches),
  • Diabetes and Obesity.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people suffering from it at any given time.

Depression affects not only humans but also those who care about us because they feel helpless when we fall into that dark place full of sadness without joy on its other side.

The science behind depression

Depression is a mental illness that affects over 300 million people in the world today.

It has been said to be one of the most common medical illnesses worldwide, and it often goes untreated because many sufferers are not aware they have an issue or know where to turn for help.

The science behind depression involves neurotransmitters in your brain, affecting how you think and feel- these chemicals control our moods.

These levels tend to decrease as we age: so much so that some studies show up to 50% of patients experience major depressive disorder (major depression) by their late 40’s or early 50s!

It makes sense then why there is such a high prevalence of this disease; as time passes, those who suffer from depression often can’t get help before reaching an age when it becomes more difficult to combat the disease.

What can lead to depression?

Many things can lead to depression.

Some everyday things that can lead to depression are :

  • Losing a loved one: this can lead to feelings of loss, sadness, and grief
  • Financial troubles or difficulties: these struggles often cause people to feel helpless as they try to navigate through their finances
  • Divorce: it is not uncommon for those going through the divorce process to experience anxiety about how life will change with the new status quo. This can also affect our self-esteem (how we view ourselves) and other emotions such as anger and loneliness.
  • Substance abuse: According to mental health America,

If you think you have depression, what should you do?

First are foremost, always seek professional help if you are feeling unhappy for extensive periods.

There are many different ways that a medical expert can help diagnose depression to help you feel better.

The first thing is that you should take a depression test. A depression test collects personal data by asking a set list of questions designed to measure your symptoms and severity.

The most common depression test is MMPI-A, which stands for “Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory: Adolescent.”

It’s best if you take the test with someone who knows you well, such as a friend or family member, to get an accurate account of how others perceive your moods and emotions.

A great way to help ease the feeling of depression is to ensure that you are properly rested. Read this article on the top ways to improve your quality of sleep.

Aside from taking this type of exam, there are other things that medical professionals can do to help diagnose depression; these include discussing our thoughts and feelings about ourselves, reviewing past experiences like trauma or abuse, and what we have gone through (in terms of stress). Psychiatrists also evaluate patients by checking their social lives to see if they have the proper support system to create a happy environment.


If you think you are experiencing depression, always start by seeking professional help.

Sadness and depression are often categorized as the same thing, but there are many differences between them in reality.

Sadness is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at some point or another, whereas depression is considered a mental illness.

Depression also affects how we think and feel with regards to ourselves- those who suffer from the disease may feel helpless (because nothing seems enjoyable) or self-hating, which leads down an even more destructive path due to these negative thoughts about oneself.

If you have been experiencing sad feelings for extended periods, it is essential to talk with your doctor. Mental health is a very important thing and directly relates to your quality of life.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.