The Important Difference Between Sadness and Depression

The Important Difference Between Sadness and Depression … and why so many get it wrong.
– Guy Winch Ph.D., Psychology Today

Our confusion can lead us to neglect a serious condition that requires treatment (depression) or, on the other end of the spectrum, overreact to a normative emotional state (sadness).

This is why people who don’t understand depression are often quick to say, “sick it up,” “get over it,” or my personal favourite, “happiness is a choice.”

Saying these things to someone with depression isn’t only the opposite of helpful, but it often makes us feel even worse. It reenforces the thoughts were have about our feelings being wrong. This causes many of us to retreat further into our depression, and in some cases, even triggers or makes suicidalal thoughts worse because we feel like we’re doing everything wrong, we are a failure because we can’t control our feelings and emotions (even though, under normal circumstances, we can) and therefore, the depressed mind, will often conclude that I’d we can’t do anything right, what’s the point?

At least that’s what my mind does. I already feel like this most of the time (living with chronic depression is extremely difficult) so when someone says anything to me that has even the smallest hint of saying in doing something wrong, my mind will cling to that and refuse to let go. I feel like everything is an attack and I’m constantly in defensive mode. – That may be due to the fact that I have anxiety on top of my depression… Or depression on top of my anxiety, depending on how you want to look at it.

What is plain old sadness? Normal human experience.

Sadness is a normal human emotion. We’ve all experienced it and we all will again. Sadness is usually triggered by a difficult, hurtful, challenging, or disappointing event, experience, or situation. In other words, we tend to feel sad about something.

How is sadness different from depression? It is much more serious, and life threatening, than normal sadness.

Depression is an abnormal emotional state, a mental illness that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors in pervasive and chronic ways. When we’re depressed we feel sad about everything. Depression does not necessarily require a difficult event or situation, a loss, or a change of circumstance as a trigger. In fact, it often occurs in the absence of any such triggers. People’s lives on paper might be totally fine—they would even admit this is true—and yet they still feel horrible.

Depression colors all aspects of our lives, making everything less enjoyable, less interesting, less important, less lovable, and less worthwhile. Depression saps our energy, motivation, and ability to experience joy, pleasure, excitement, anticipation, satisfaction, connection, and meaning. All your thresholds tend to be lower. You’re more impatient, quicker to anger and get frustrated, quicker to break down, and it takes you longer to bounce back from everything.

If we can make the world more aware of these differences, and how serious depression really is, maybe we can reduce the amount of deaths due to  depression in addition to reducing the stigma.

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