On face value, this would seem an easy distinction, but in truth, it can be complex. Firstly, we tend to differentiate sadness from depression in that sadness tends to be the result of a real loss of something of value. It can be a person, thing, opportunity, etc. Sadness tends not to get in the way of our functioning and as we adjust to the situation, the sadness tends to fade and go away, at least for the most part.
Depression tends to be a more severe sense of sadness. Depression may be tied to a current issue or loss and for some, it may be there despite what is going on presently in one’s life. Depression, unlike sadness may interfere with our functioning to greater or lessor extents. Indeed, it can be severe and incapacitating. Depression in the present may also be connected to distressing experiences of the past, even those beyond our current awareness. That relates to the impact of trauma and abuse.
The other thing about depression for some, is that it can be an emotional response tied to a current issue, but where the response seems disproportionate or greater than one would expect given the issue. Depression for some also may not be tied to any event, but truly a biological issue of the person. In these circumstances it is as if our emotions are betraying our reality.
Counseling and/or other forms of treatment depends on how we assess the underlying cause. For the one who experiences a reasonable sadness or a loss, where that sadness may persist, grief counseling may be of value. Therein we acknowledge and explore the meaning of the loss and where possible integrate that experience into our lives at times finding meaning for ourselves for the experience.
For depression, a more thorough examination of one’s situation, past and present as well as giving consideration to biological factors can aid in understanding what contributes to that mood.
Where trauma or abuse are identified, making sure the person is currently safe and then exploring the nature and effect of those circumstances can support management and recovery. Where depression persists, other therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and/or even medication can help a person better manage and cope.
To further differentiate, sadness tends to be a normal and transitory reaction to upsetting events. Therein the person can typically also still experience pleasure and joy. Depression tends to be a more pervasive feeling of dread that can undermine or impair feelings of pleasure and joy. Depression also tends to interfere with daily functions, be it sleep, eating or self-care. It can also cause irritability, causing the person to appear grumpy or frustrating to others.
Feeling out of sorts? Down?
It can be helpful to consult with a therapist to explore the nature and effect of those feelings. The therapist can ask a range of questions to help determine and differentiate between sadness and depression and suggest a course of action to manage.