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The 6 differences between sadness and depression

The 6 differences between sadness and depression

May 6, 2021

They are two different concepts and at the same time with multiple points in common . Two ideas that are often misinterpreted and confused too often.

It's about the sadness and the depression , two terms that we propose to clarify and differentiate once and for all. These differences are not only confined to the emotional expression of both sensations, but also have to do with the psychological and psychophysiological causes that give rise to each of them.

Sadness and depression: a harmful confusion

There is a terrible confusion between both terms, sadness and depression. We will define both concepts and clarify recurring doubts about their similarities and differences.


The signs and symptoms that produce depression and sadness can be difficult to differentiate for an untrained person on the subject. Luckily, mental health professionals know that, based on a good number of scientific research, there are certain signs and signals of different nature that allow us to differentiate between these two states.

By way of summary, we can explain up to six basic points to know when we are facing a sad person, or before someone suffering from a depressive disorder .

To deepen: "Are there several types of depression?"

1. Depression is a psychological disorder

Depression is a psychopathology in which, for different reasons and reasons, the affected person manifests certain symptoms: sadness, apathy, anguish, feelings of hopelessness ... That is, sadness is only one of the facets of depression.


While sadness is a passing mental state, people suffering from a depressive disorder are in a chronic situation of discomfort and uneasiness . To be diagnosed with depression, a person must be at least six months with this type of symptoms.

2. Sadness is a relatively transient state of mind

The feeling of sadness is a relatively common psychological state , and that is not by itself an indicator of any mental disorder. It is, simply, the psychological reaction to something that has hurt us or to difficult circumstances that seem complicated to escape. The appearance of sadness, crying and crying is something totally normal.

Sadness is one more of human emotions, and it is not bad, and we should not worry too much about someone being sad for a few days. We can be sad when we lose a relative or a close friend, we can feel sad when we are truncated a plan and we can even feel that way for no apparent reason, perhaps because of a hormonal change or because we have risen with a low mood.


Therefore, one of the differences between sadness and depression is that the first is expected, while few people develop depression throughout their lives.

3. Neuroimaging tests

As we see in the image below these lines, people with depression have an activation level in several areas of the brain clearly inferior to healthy people. Through different neuroimaging techniques we can see that the depressive brain is clearly differentiated from the healthy brain.

In addition, serotonin levels are much lower in people suffering from a depressive disorder, which influences a large number of mental processes. A sad person, on the other hand, does not experience such radical or lasting changes in his brain activation dynamics.

4. The abulia

Abulia is characterized by affecting people with depression, and leaving them totally (or partially) disabled to face daily life . Going to work, to buy or to make a management becomes an impossible mission for patients with this type of pictures.

Somehow, people with depression feel that there is nothing worth moving for, and act accordingly with this idea. They lack initiative for the most basic, from combing to going out on the street.

The abulia and the different effects on the behavior of people with depression is not something they choose for themselves. The cause of these behavioral manifestations is the deterioration of the nervous and immune systems. Abulia can be common both in people who are sad and in people with depression. The difference is that depressed people have this apathy for weeks and even months .

5. When the sadness gets too far

Sometimes, the sadness prolonged in time can lead to a case of depression . The progressive deterioration in the quality of life of the affected person can be noticed because he becomes incapable of doing his daily tasks, he is affected (crying, isolation) frequently and they are very limited by his psychological state.

If this situation lasts for several months, it is possible that the person is immersed in the development of a depressive picture. Thus, the difference between sadness and depression is, in part, quantitative. But there is also a qualitative difference : in depression many times you can not identify the fact or the memory that generates the discomfort. That is something that does not happen when we are sad; In those situations, we feel this way because of a fact that, more or less, we know.

6. Sadness does not need therapy; depression, yes

As we have seen, or A state of common sadness is transient and not of major importance . It is very likely that people who go through a period of emotional pain do not require any specific professional support. Simply, the return to routine and informal support from friends, family and friends can be more than enough for life to resume its course and overcome this state of sadness.

But nevertheless, Depression is a serious disorder that must be treated by a professional , because it affects the quality of the person's going very significantly. An accurate diagnosis and therapy focused on cognitive restructuring and, if necessary, on psychotropic drugs, can decisively help the patient to recover his psychological well-being and maintain it over time, avoiding relapses.

Another way of looking at it is to consider that sadness is, in reality, a useful emotion. It serves to add emotional tone to certain memories and, in that way, make wiser decisions in the future. The difference between depression and sadness would be, then, that the second in an alteration of the normal functioning of the brain, something that is not useful but that is a barrier. That is why it is considered that the symptoms of depressive disorders should be mitigated, and currently we are working to go to the root of the problem and eliminate the disorder itself , although at the moment we do not know how to do it and many years of research remain ahead.

Bibliographic references:

  • Foti, D. et al (2014). Reward dysfunction in major depression: Multimodal neuroimaging evidence for refining the melancholic phenotype. NeuroImage, 101, pp. 50 - 58

Ask Dr. Oz: How Do I Know If I'm Depressed or Sad? (May 2021).


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