Sadness is a normal, healthy emotion. So firstly, it’s important to say that your sadness is valid – all emotions are valid (including the uncomfortable ones). 

Although sadness may not be one of the emotions we love best, it serves a powerful purpose. It teaches us how we want to be treated, and how we treat others.

We tend to feel sad when we’ve lost something or been disappointed or let down in some way. There tends to be a reason for sadness, and we usually find that in time – as with all emotions – it passes through relatively quickly.

However, sometimes sadness persists and doesn’t go away. In these cases, it might indicate that there is something more at play.

Is it sadness or depression? How to know the difference

Sadness – as uncomfortable as it might feel at times – is part of being human. We all experience sadness from time-to-time. 

But following our sadness, there tends to be a feeling of relief. Our sadness ends. Maybe it’s after a good cry, talking it out with friends or doing something we enjoy.

Like all emotions, sadness is fleeting. In its own time, and when it’s ready, our sadness will pass, making space for another emotion.

Depression, on the other hand, doesn’t budge. If your sadness is persistent and doesn’t go away on its own, and it lasts for a period of longer than 2 weeks, then you might be suffering from depression.

Depression impacts our mood which means that sadness is a major symptom – but it’s also not the only symptom. Depression has a nasty habit of changing the way we see ourselves, and the world around us. It’s a bit like living life wearing blinders – everything feels murkier.

Sometimes depression can be traced back to a specific event like losing a job or someone close to you passing away but it can also just as easily creep up over time – with no apparent reason at all.

When we think of depression, many of us will think of Major Depressive Disorder but there are lots of different types of depressive disorders. Likewise, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Depression can look different for different people. Whilst one person might struggle to get out of bed in the morning, another might simply find that they lack the enjoyment they used to find in day-to-day life.

As mentioned before, sadness is just one element of depression. Alongside sadness, if you’re suffering from depression, you may be experiencing any of the following:

  • Difficulties concentrating or making decisions
  • Loss of interest in the things you once enjoyed
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Difficulties sleeping/sleep disorders
  • Tiredness and low energy (despite getting plenty of sleep)
  • Unexplained body aches and pains
  • Suicide ideation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling guilty for no reason
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Stomach aches

What should I do if I think I’m depressed?

If you think you may be depressed, it’s really important to seek support from a mental health expert. When left untreated, depression can end up having a very negative impact on each and every area of your life.

In therapy for depression, a psychologist will help you unravel what caused your depression and what it feels like for you. When you get to understand the patterns of your depression, you’ll get better at spotting the warning signs to prevent it from recurring again. You might also be encouraged to keep a mood diary, charting your thoughts and feelings throughout the day.

Depression can keep us trapped in a negative loop and self-dialogue – unhelpful thought patterns that reinforce it. These are sometimes referred to as “cognitive distortions”. A psychologist will help you learn how to identify these unhelpful thinking styles so you can get better at calling them out when they strike. At the root of depression is usually a very harsh inner critic, and a psychologist will help you develop healthier ways of talking to yourself. And when you start to be kinder to yourself, you’ll notice everything changes.