Am I Depressed or Sad?

Sadness is a typical human emotion that everyone feels at some point in their lives.  It is a natural reaction to life events that cause you to feel pain, upset, or just feel down. Like many other emotions, sadness will eventually fade away and will no longer affect you. 

On the other hand, depression is a long-term mental illness that affects a person’s social, occupational, and other important aspects of their life. If an individual does not seek treatment for their depression, symptoms can last a lifetime. 

What is Depression?

Clinical depression, also called Major Depressive Disorder is a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. It is a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily living. 

One in every 15 adults is affected by depression each year. That’s 6.7% of the population in the U.S. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. It is a common and serious illness that encompasses sadness.  

The symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for the diagnosis. 

Medical conditions must be ruled out as well. Medical conditions can mimic symptoms of depression such as thyroid problems, vitamin deficiency, or medications.

One in six people, 16.6% will experience depression some point in their lifetime. The onset of depression can affect individuals at any time in their life, though it is most often an onset in a person’s late teens to mid-20’s. Women have a greater likelihood of experiencing depression than men.  


Symptoms of depression may include: 

  • Loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities 
  • Mood swings 
  • Sadness
  • Apathy 
  • General discontent
  • Guilt and feelings of worthlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Agitation 
  • Excessive crying 
  • Irritability 
  • Restlessness
  • Social isolation 
  • Fatigue 
  • Issues with sleep 
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Obsessive thoughts 

Depression vs Sadness 

Depression has features of being sad though depression is more than just sadness. It encompasses symptoms categorized as a mental illness that includes exhaustion, loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities and can include thoughts of death and suicide. Clinical depression is episodic and lasts at least two weeks at a time.

Sadness is a natural response to events such as losing a job, going through a breakup, and the grief of losing a significant person in your life. Sadness dissipates though.  Sadness can turn into depression if persistent and can cause physical changes and mood dysregulation. 

Though being sad is not necessarily depression. Sadness and depression can elicit some intense feelings that cause withdrawal from people and usual activities though still are different. With sadness comes painful feelings that come in waves whereas depression is persistent for two weeks or more. Sadness does not encompass persistent low esteem; depression encompasses feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Major depression often has thoughts or a focus on ending one’s life due to the intense feelings and inability to cope. 

Identifying the difference between sadness and depression is necessary and can help individuals in getting the appropriate help they need. 

How do I know if I’m Sad or Depressed?

If you’re experiencing sadness from losing a job ending a relationship or losing someone in your life it’s certainly normal to feel sad about it. The human reaction to events like these is sadness, even extreme sadness. 

That said, experiencing this sadness can also develop into depression.  If feelings continue to persist and grow over time, or if your mood begins to interfere with your day-to-day life you may be developing depression. 

Mood can also be affected by changes in your body, such as hormonal changes from puberty, medical conditions, or treatments. It is a good idea to check your thyroid and other hormone levels if you believe you may be depressed.

If you or a loved one is still experiencing symptoms of depression or if it runs in your family, there is a good chance they can be experiencing depression.  

Depression Treatment with Firstlight Recovery

Depression is treatable and about 80-90% of individuals diagnosed with depression respond well to treatment and at the very least experience a relief in symptoms.  It is considered a medical condition. Often, individuals can manage symptoms with various levels of treatment and intervention. Such as:

  • Psychotherapy 
  • Psychotropic medications
  • Lifestyle changes 
  • Self-management strategies and education 
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Encourage your loved one to speak to professionals to get a psychological evaluation and to gain a higher understanding as to the different levels of care and what appropriate treatment would meet their personal needs, symptoms and/or diagnosis. 

There are many coping skills that can help and promote self-soothing or mitigate the symptoms of depression. It is important to note that there are things that increase depression or promote the onset that includes lack of sleep, poor dietary habits, consuming illicit drugs and alcohol, persistent stressful environments, and unhealthy relationships. Below are examples of healthy coping skills and habits. 

  • Regular exercise 
  • Quality sleep regularly
  • Eating healthy and well-rounded meals 
  • Develop proactive and reactive coping. Proactive skills are activities engaged in and are practiced daily or weekly to reduce or mitigate the severity of symptoms. Reactive skills are activities an individual engages into immediate reduce the severity of symptoms.
  • Engage in mindfulness meditation or grounding such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, challenging irrational thoughts.
  • Engage in self-care
  • Educate yourself
  • Get active
  • Build a sense of community and support – join a support group
  • Engage in psychotherapy with a therapist