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The Difference Between Feeling Sad and Having Depression

We all feel sad or blue when bad things happen. The loss of a loved one, a breakup or just a bad day can all cause feelings of sadness. And that’s okay. Sadness is a healthy emotion to feel when faced with a difficult situation and usually we cope and soon recover without treatment.

Depression on the other hand can be debilitating and require additional support. A major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person’s ability to work, carry out usual daily activities and have satisfying personal relationships.

Sadness is a symptom of depression, but it is not the only one. Here are some signs that can help you determine if you or your loved one is feeling sad or is facing depression.

A person who is feeling sad

  • Might express emotion through crying.
  • Might spend time alone.
  • Can maintain regular eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Can participate in regular activities, such as work or school.
  • Starts feeling better in a few days or weeks.

A person who has depression

  • Might experience unusual feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, hopelessness, helplessness and irritability that last two weeks or more.
  • Might move more slowly or sometimes becomes agitated and unable to settle.
  • Might have sleeping difficulties or sometimes sleep too much.
  • Might lose interest in activities that used to be enjoyable.
  • Might have thoughts about self-harm or suicide.

Not every person who is depressed has all these symptoms. Everyone is different in the number and severity of symptoms, making it important that we really understand depression and know how to identify and differentiate signs of sadness and depression.

If it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason for feeling down or if the feelings persist, it might be worthwhile to talk to someone. This self-assessment from Mental Health America can be a place to start if you’re unsure if your feelings are more than sadness.

You can also take a Mental Health First Aid course to learn more about depression and ways to help. Mental Health First Aid teaches people how to notice signs of depression, provide support in a nonjudgmental way and share appropriate resources and professional help.