Understanding The Difference Between Sadness & Depression - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 26, 2014

Understanding The Difference Between Sadness & Depression

Nearly 18.8 million American adults experience depression each year.

Nearly 18.8 million American adults
experience depression each year.

Sometimes, events in our lives can leave us feeling sad and going through the stages of grief. Sadness and grief are normal human emotions that we all experience at some point. But sadness isn’t constant nor does it impact other facets of our lives.

That is the biggest difference between sadness and depression.

People typically feel sad following a loss or disappointment, but if they’re healthy, they will eventually rebound and, despite periods of grief or mourning, sadness doesn’t cause them to stop taking part in daily activities.

That’s not the case with depression.

“Some of the questions we ask to determine if individuals are having a major depressive episode include: Are they sleeping too much or too little? Are they eating too much or too little? Are they interested in doing things they’ve always received pleasure from in the past?” said Kurt P. Miceli, M.D., MBA, a psychiatrist for Crozer-Keystone Health System.

“When we’re looking at a major depressive episode, we’re looking at someone suffering from more than just the blues. These folks are struggling in so many other regards,” he said.

When someone is diagnosed with depression, they aren’t alone. Nearly 18.8 million American adults experience depression each year. Some of the symptoms they may feel include:

  • A depressed mood, sadness or an “empty” feeling
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Changing sleep patterns – inability to sleep or excessive sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness or irritability, especially in children and adolescents
  • Feelings of guilt for no real reason
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Although sadness is one of the symptoms of depression, Dr. Miceli notes that may only be one part of a person’s major depressive episode.

“A major depressive episode is a significant compilation of these symptoms,” he said. Typically, when a medical professional is diagnosing a patient with depression, they look for at least five of those symptoms that have persisted for at least two weeks.

That last symptom – thoughts of suicide or death – is one of the biggest concerns with depression. Depression is the strongest risk factor for suicide.

“The biggest thing we're worried about is suicidal ideation and if someone has the intent and plan to act on those thoughts,” Dr. Miceli said.

This symptom plays a major role in differentiating between sadness and depression.

“There are responses to losses where people are going to have intense sadness and you might see some symptoms of depression. This may be normal bereavement, for example, but if they’re at the point where they want to kill themselves, they have crossed into the realm of major depression,” he explained.

With the rate of suicide in America, Dr. Miceli said it’s even more important to understand the difference between sadness and depression. Suicide takes the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans every year.

“When we look at the suicide rate in the country, the numbers are astronomical. When you look at the top 10 causes of death, suicide is within those 10 causes,” he said.

When it comes to noticing changes in yourself or others that could be related to depression, Dr. Miceli stated that it’s better to defer to the side of caution, especially when you’re looking at the potential lethality to this illness.

“There’s sometimes still a stigma for seeking the help of a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional. But talking to someone is really key,” he said.

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