Depression vs Sadness: The Difference

depression vs sadness

Whether or not you have experienced depression, there is a good chance you have heard of it. People often use the word “depressed” to describe a general feeling of sadness, but there are several important differences to consider when comparing depression vs sadness.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at depression vs sadness so you can tell whether you’re temporarily sad or experienced a type of depression.

Depression vs Sadness

It is estimated that over 264 million people, worldwide, are diagnosable as suffering from symptoms of this mental health disorder.  Over 10 percent of the population receives a prescription medication toward relieving the symptoms, and suicide – attempted as a result of experiencing extreme depression – is a leading cause of death for young adults.

With such a prevalence of the disorder within our society, it can be difficult to discern between natural responses to difficult experiences and the symptoms of depression. People may be too ready to rush to the doctor to obtain a prescription toward relieving unpleasant feelings that are associated with normal life events or may minimize their own struggles in light of comparison with more dramatic tales of suffering.

The task of determining whether to let feelings of sadness run their course or to treat the feelings as clinical depression will fall on both the mental health professional and the individual. Educating yourself on the difference between sadness and depression will arm you with the information necessary to actively participate in your mental health maintenance.


Scientists have known for quite a while that many of our basic emotional responses have evolved to keep us safe. Feelings of fear and disgust can motivate us to stay away from something harmful. Feelings of happiness can keep us close to our loved ones. The feeling of sadness has only recently been identified as similarly useful to our survival.

As it turns out, when we are sad, our ability to remember an experience is improved. The experience of sadness can also make us a better judge of character, and motivate us to make necessary changes in our lives. Sadness can result in our having a good cry, or engaging in a good venting session, which can be extremely relieving and refreshing. The feeling of sadness can be viewed as an agent for positive change.

There are many events in life that can result in a person feeling sad. Disappointment over missing out on something, experiencing social rejection, or losing a loved one are just a few of the circumstances under which one would expect to feel sad. If you can identify the source of your sorrow, you are likely experiencing normal, natural, sadness.


While sadness can be considered a useful emotion, depression is considered to be counterproductive to our wellbeing. Rather than being an agent of change, depression can cause a person to feel stuck in place. Someone who starts out with sadness can progress toward being depressed. If you are no longer able to pinpoint exactly why it is that you feel sad, or if it seems that your sadness has lingered on much longer than expected, you may be experiencing depression.

In order to qualify as clinically diagnosable depression, at least five of the following symptoms need to be present, and for at least two weeks. These symptoms can occur concurrently with those of other disorders, such as anxiety or bipolar symptoms, and will be present for most of the day, every day.

1. Anhedonia and Loss of Motivation

Anhedonia is a fancy way of saying that you don’t find anything interesting, anymore.

A person with anhedonia may be observed as giving up hobbies or activities that he or she was once passionate about. When asked about what they would like to do for fun, people in this state are likely to indicate that nothing sounds appealing.

2. Changes in Appetite or Weight

A person with depression may begin to consume more food than normal, in an attempt to invoke those positive feelings. Alternatively, a person in depression may lose the desire to eat, due to no longer feeling good when he or she does so.

A lack of desire to engage in physical activity may also play a role in weight gain or loss of muscle mass for a person in depression.

If you need help, you may be interested in learning more about residential eating disorder treatment for young adults as well as our physical health program.

3. Loss of Energy

A person in a depressed emotional and mental state will often find that the body responds in kind. Along with a sluggish brain, he or she may find that it is hard to get up off of the couch or out of the bed.

4. Poor Memory or Lack of Concentration

While the feeling of sadness appears to improve memory and attention to detail, depression does the opposite.

A person in depression may describe his or her memory as being cloudy and may report not being able to focus on work or school tasks.

5. Persistent Sense of Guilt or Worthlessness

Depression tends to come with a hefty dose of self-loathing.

People with depression may blame themselves for not having the energy or drive necessary to continue onward or may become obsessed with focusing on past regrets.

6. Thoughts of Suicide

The capstone of depressive experience is the thought that death would be easier to take than continued living, known as suicidal ideation. Thoughts of suicide may be fleeting or persistent, which is sometimes known as chronic suicidal ideation.

Once a person has moved into actively planning out how to complete an act of suicide, he or she is in grave danger.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 1-800-273-8255

Grief as a Mental Health Disorder

The guidelines in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have recently expanded to classify the experience of grief as a mental health disorder. The justification for this change appears to be centered around the idea that genuine depression can often be overlooked through consideration that a person is experiencing the symptoms as a natural response to bereavement, and people will end up not receiving the clinical help that is needed.

Prior to this change in classification, guidelines allowed for a person to experience depressive symptoms related to grief for a reasonable period of time, without receiving a diagnosis of depression. Apart from the input provided by the mental health professionals who contribute to the diagnostic criteria, it will be up to you to decide whether your own experience of sadness after a loss is a healthy – and normal – part of your grieving process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is sadness?

Sadness is best described as an emotional state we sometimes feel when we experience disappointment, despair, and anguish.

What is depression?

Depression includes a variety of disorders in which people experience long-term depressed mood, loss of interest, and mood swings. Depression treatment has shown to help people with depressive disorders.

How do you treat depression?

Therapy, medication, or the combination of both may help those with certain depression disorders. A professional will provide an individual depression treatment plan for you.


While it’s not uncommon for people to use the word “depressed” when describing feelings of sadness, it’s not entirely correct. There are several major differences between depression and sadness.

The more you understand the differences, the more likely you will be able to determine whether you need to consider professional help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *