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BVHS Weekend Column: Depression versus Sadness

by Tracy Brubaker, CNP,  Caughman Health Center

Depression is a common mental illness that affects millions of people around the world. However, many people suffering from depression may believe they are simply just sad. Likewise, those who do not suffer from depression may mistake extreme sadness as depression. Unlike depression, sadness is a typical human emotion and a natural part of life that may sometimes even be beneficial. In contrast, depression is unhealthy and may require treatment to alleviate.

It is normal to react to difficult experiences such as losing a loved one, job or friendship by feeling sad. In fact, it is emotionally healthy to be sad during hard times because it allows you to process the negative event in a healthy manner. Suppressing sadness may result in suppressing other emotions such as joy or excitement, which in turn may lead to a much duller life. Experiencing and accepting sadness is a beneficial way to stay in tune with our emotions. The key to sadness, however, is that people tend to be sad about something in particular, not simply in general.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression—technically called major depressive disorder—is “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” Individuals may become depressed without a clear explanation or by responding to a painful event in an unhealthy way. In other words, depression causes individuals to be sad about almost everything, rather than solely about a particular event. This often results in feelings of numbness, self-blame or hatred, and/or shame. Sadness may also be experienced as a symptom, but it is not the only definitive symptom of depression.

Dwelling on sadness for a long period of time may resemble depression. However, unless other symptoms of depression are present, long periods of sadness do not equate to depression. Often times, distracting yourself with pleasurable activities or speaking to a friend or therapist about your troubles can help reduce the feeling of sadness and help bring back happiness over time. If you find that the sadness you or a loved one are feeling does not dissipate over time, or if you or a loved one are experiencing other symptoms, it may be a sign of depression. Common symptoms of depression besides a depressed or irritable mood include:

  • Decrease in interest of previously pleasurable activities
  • Significant changes in weight or appetite
  • Sleep abnormalities, such as trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much
  • Lack of energy on most days
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt most of the time
  • Concentration, creativity or thinking difficulties most days
  • Thoughts of death or suicide often

Regardless of whether you believe you or a loved one is depressed or sad, it may be beneficial to seek a health care provider’s advice on how to feel better. While sadness is normal, persistent sadness over time may decrease an individual’s overall life satisfaction. Likewise, depression often negatively affects an individual’s ability to function normally. There are many treatment options available for depression that benefit most people, and there are multiple methods to reduce sadness. Speak to your health care provider today about what can work best for you or a loved one.

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