They are similar, but there are differences.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3 million Australians are living with depression and anxiety. In spite of this, many people still can’t differentiate clinical depression from normal sadness. It is important for any health worker to be able to tell the difference between the two so that patients are properly diagnosed and cared for.
Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) definition of depression, some of the key differences between sadness and clinical depression include:
1. Sadness is triggered by a situation
Unlike depression, sadness always comes as a result of a situation. Whether a recent breakup or the death of your pet, sadness is a normal emotion that everyone experiences sometimes. However, depression goes way beyond this.
While certain events trigger depression, the depressed mind is already predisposed to react negatively to these events. Depression can also start all on its own without any trigger.
2. When you are sad you can still enjoy the activities you love
One of the distinct characteristics of depression is that it makes you lose interest in the things you used to love. This condition is known as Anhedonia. People with anhedonia usually lose interest in their hobbies, work, and even sex.
However, you can be sad but still enjoy the things that you love. Engaging in hobbies like swimming and dancing could lift your moods.
3. Depression affects your eating and sleeping patterns
When you are just sad, you usually can still eat, sleep and even work out as usual. On the other side, people who are depressed usually have irregular eating and sleeping patterns. While some want to lay in bed the whole day, some struggle with insomnia.
Due to the feeling of hopelessness that depression induces, some patients have been known to avoid food in general or indulge in unhealthy meals. It is not unusual to see unexpected weight gain or weight loss.
4. When you are depressed, your low mood is consistent
As we have noticed with our own experiences of sadness, you can be distracted from your low mood by participating in some activities. On the flip side, the low mood of a depressed person is persistent.
For instance, those with moderate depression usually have a consistent low mood throughout the day with a few bright spots. Those with severe depression have it much worse, with consistent depression episodes daily.
5. Depression can be accompanied by self-punishing and self-harming thoughts
Another distinct difference between depression and sadness is that feelings of worthlessness and intense guilt usually accompany the former. In severe cases, a depressed individual might experience suicidal thoughts. Sadness, on the other hand, does not induce such feelings and thoughts.
The Bottom Line
The idea that depression is the same as sadness, and that you can snap out of it is a complete fallacy. Anyone suspected to be suffering from depression needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Depression treatment has been known to be highly effective.