symptoms of depression

Are You Depressed Or Just Sad? Here’s How To Tell The Difference

By Connor McClenahan


Do you sometimes feel sad or blue? Are you wondering “is depression sadness?” The answer is no, these are two different experiences. Most people feel sad or down at times. This is a normal experience and the feeling usually comes and goes. Major depression, on the other hand, is very different than feeling sad.  Depression is a persistent mental disorder that usually requires treatment. Without treatment, depression can be overwhelming and affect many areas of life. Therefore, it is important to recognize if you or a loved one has depression and to get help. In this blog post, I will go over the difference between sadness and depression and when to get help. 




Some Facts About Depression 


Depression is a common experience in the United States. Just over seven percent of the population experiences major depression in the United States. More women than men are diagnosed with depression. 



Is Sadness Depression? 


If you are wondering “is sadness depression” the answer is no. These two things are different. Sadness is an emotion. Depression, on the other hand, is a clinical mental illness. It is normal for everyone to feel sad at times — especially during times of loss, disappointment, or illness. You may become sad and cry more often than normal during these periods. However, if you feel down most of the time and it affects your relationships, career, or school, then you might have clinical depression.


Common Symptoms Of Depression


Knowing the symptoms of depression can also help you tell the difference. Here are some of the signs of depression to look out for: 


    • Low Energy. Do you feel tired all the time? With depression, it can be hard to find the energy to even get out of bed in the morning. 
    • Social withdrawal. If you isolate yourself from family, friends, and others, it could be depression. 
    • Hopelessness. People with depression often describe a sense of meaninglessness in their daily life and hopelessness about the future. 
    • Loneliness. Someone who is depressed feels they’re removed from the rest of social life, as if a barrier exists between them and the world.
    • Physical pain. Studies have shown that back, neck, and other types of pain are all related to depression. That is probably because depression and pain share a common neurological pathway.
    • Insomnia. Sleeping problems are a common symptom of depression.
    • Irritability. Some people who experience depression have a predominantly irritable mood. Anger and irritability are particularly common among men who have depression. 




Types Of Depression 


Depression is not just one thing. There are several types of depression. And, depression can vary in intensity. For some people, depression is mild, for others, it makes daily tasks impossible. The different types of depression include: 


  • Major depressive disorder- This is what most people think of when they think about depression. With this type of depression, symptoms occur most of the day,  nearly every day. 
  • Persistent depressive disorder – A mild, chronic type of depression that lasts for at least two years. 
  • Seasonal affective disorder – Depression that occurs during the winter months. 
  • Postpartum depression – Major depression that occurs in the weeks or months after giving birth.

Depression can also be triggered by substance abuse or other addictive behaviors.


Exogenous Vs. Endogenous Depression 


Depression can be either exogenous or endogenous. Exogenous depression is a depression in response to life events. The depression is triggered by external events. People with exogenous depression may have never experienced prolonged periods of depression before, but an overwhelming or difficult life circumstance triggers depression. Researchers say that the psychological stress from the event changes chemicals in the brain that have to do with mood. 


Examples of events that can trigger depression include moving to a new area, losing one’s job, or the sudden loss of a loved one. People with exogenous depression often describe waking up feeling fine, then sinking into depression throughout the day. 


Endogenous depression is a type of depression that occurs for no apparent reason. Usually genetic and heredity factors are involved. People with this type of depression can often point to times when they felt depressed even when their life circumstances were great. They felt as though they should be happy when they were not. They find their depression follows them throughout the day, and isn’t closely tied to events in their life, but rather an enduring internal experience. 



Treatment For Depression 


Most people do best with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Although, different types of treatment may work better than others for some people. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a common first-line medication for depression. They are generally well-tolerated and effective, especially for those with endogenous depression.  Psychotherapy can help you develop coping skills to manage the symptoms of depression.  People who have treatment-resistant depression may require additional interventions, such as antipsychotic medications, in addition to therapy and antidepressant medications. Endogenous depression is more likely to be treatment-resistant and require medications along with other interventions.


Exogenous depression, on the other hand, is less likely to be relieved with medication alone. Usually the circumstances of one’s life need to be explored and understood in order to feel relief.


How To Get Help 




The first step in finding the best treatment for sadness and depression is to make an appointment with a therapist. Together, you and your therapist can come up with the best treatment options for you. Here’s some questions a therapist may explore with you:


  • Have you ever felt this way before?
  • What areas of your life does this feeling affect?
  • How has your sleep changed?
  • When during the day do you experience depression?


These questions can begin to bring clarity to the kind of experience you’re having, whether it’s sadness, or whether it’s one of many experiences of depression. It’s my hope that as you take that first step, you find understanding that gives you hope.


Connor McClenahan, Psy.D is a therapist who specializes in depression, anxiety, and trauma. Click the button below to get in touch. 


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