We often hear people say they are depressed about something or that a particular situation is depressing. We also hear people say they feel sad something didn’t turn out well. 

What’s the difference between being sad and being depressed then? 

This question can help us understand what depression is.

While sadness can be a temporary feeling, depression sets in when sadness persists for a long enough period of time and when it is severe enough to result in a dysfunctional lifestyle. This can be identified as the first difference between sadness and depression.

Apart from feelings of sadness, the presence of all or some of the following features can hint towards depression

  • Loss of interest
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Disturbed sleep and appetite
  • Changes in body weight
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Psychomotor slowing
  • Suicidal thoughts

Thus, depression suggests a more severe form of the negative emotion, whereas sadness is relatively milder and can be short-lived.

Sadness can also be called a healthy negative emotion, while Depression is an unhealthy negative emotion. Sadness is called "healthy" because it allows a person to experience disappointment about a situation or a person, think about it and deal with it in a healthy manner. 

Depression interferes with day to day functioning and often doesn't help a person deal with the situation in a healthy way. Hence, unhealthy negative emotion.  

Why is it important to understand the difference between Sadness and Depression? 

In the Psychotherapy process, we encourage the client to identify how dysfunctional/unhealthy their Depression is. And then we help them look at alternative ways of feeling about the same situation. Sadness is the alternative, healthier way of feeling. This can be set as a goal and we can further explore what thoughts and beliefs need to change so that one feels the negative emotion in a more manageable severity.