Is It Sadness Or Am I Experiencing Depression?

Updated December 29, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

All of us have our bad days. Whether we are dealing with difficult circumstances or trying hardships, we may all have periods where we are feeling less happy than usual. What happens when that day turns into days or seems to stretch across weeks? 

When does a case of the blues point to something more serious? While everyone may experience difficult emotions, knowing when these emotions develop into a mental illness like depression is key to getting the right help in time. 

Although depression can be overwhelming, there are plenty of resources out there that can help you treat and cope with your depression. Awareness around this mental health disorder is the first step towards seeking out treatment. 

If you have been feeling more sad than usual and you believe it may be more than a bad mood, here’s how to check for signs of depression.

What Is Depression?

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Are You Curious About The Difference Between Sadness And Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder that is characterized by markedly low moods that impact an individual’s ability to function as they normally do. Those with depression can often struggle with a lack of energy, both physically and mentally, and will lose interest in activities that they previously enjoyed. 

For those who are experiencing sadness, it can be difficult to recognize it from depression while you are in the process of dealing with your emotions. However, depression comes with a far more distinctive set of symptoms than what you may experience when you are feeling sad. 

Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depression are often far more noticeable and impactful than the emotions we feel when we are sad. The major signs of depression to look out for include:

  • Changes in mood such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and sadness. Other emotions and feelings like guilt, anger, and worthlessness may be present. In some cases, individuals express feeling numb or empty as a result of their depression.

  • Increased isolation and withdrawing from activities that the individual previously enjoyed.

  • Weight gain or weight loss due to increased or decreased appetite.

  • Changes in sleep, which can include sleeping less or sleeping more as well as experiencing nightmares.

  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating on various tasks.

  • Anxiety and restlessness.

  • Slower speech and movements.

  • Engaging in high-risk activities like drinking, doing drugs, or behaving recklessly.

  • Experiencing physical aches and pains that have no explainable cause and cannot be treated using medication or other methods.

  • Having suicidal thoughts or actively considering suicide. 

If you believe that you are at risk of hurting yourself or are having suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and it is available 24 hours every day.

Many of the symptoms of depression do not fit into the definition of sadness or the state of being sad. Rather, sadness is just one part of depression that, when combined with other symptoms, results in a bigger problem.

However, sadness and depression may not always be easy to differentiate. Different people can experience different symptoms. Along with personal experience, there are different types of depression that you may experience as well. Let’s walk through the different types of depression that may be impacting you.

Types of Depression

The symptoms of depression provided above are often associated with major depression. However, major depression is not the only form of depression out there. In order to successfully distinguish sadness from depression, we need to understand the many ways depression can be experienced.

Besides major depressive disorder, which is accompanied by more severe symptoms, other forms of depression include:

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that can affect you during winter months when the weather becomes grey, and the days become shorter. This form of depression may not be as severe as major depression and often lifts once spring comes. However, it still differs from sadness as those affected will experience some of the symptoms listed under major depressive disorder.

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD): Unlike major depression, which can last for months, those going through persistent depressive disorder can experience low-grade symptoms of depression for two years or longer. 

Although symptoms may not be as severe, the length of the depressive episode can still take a toll on the individual over time. As it is with other forms of depression, you may be able to recognize you are experiencing PDD if you notice some of the common symptoms of depression.

  • Bipolar Disorder: While bipolar disorder is not a depressive disorder, those who experience it do experience depressive episodes. The major difference, however, is that you will also experience manic episodes. These episodes will produce the opposite effects, with euphoric moods and risk-taking being the most common symptoms. 

If you believe that you may be experiencing bipolar disorder, it is important that you seek out help as some forms of this disorder can be very serious.

Different People Experience It Differently

While these are only a few examples of how depression can manifest, it’s important to note that everyone can experience depression in different ways. For men who have depression, aggressive behaviors and high-risk actions may be more prominent symptoms. 

As a result, men may not be able to tell that they have depression because anger can be the main symptom and anger is a socially acceptable behavior. 

For women, however, depression may take more of a somber approach. They may experience more of the sadness and fatigue that depression can cause. However, these are just some examples of issues you may face in your own depressive episode. There is no specific set of symptoms that everyone experiences.

Knowing what depression is and what it may look like for you is the first step towards seeking out help. Understanding the difference between sadness and depression can better help you understand what steps to take next. So, how can you tell the difference between sadness and depression? Learning how to know if you have depression rather than sadness is feasible.

Sadness or Depression? How to Know If You Have Depression

Sadness is a common human emotion that we all experience. When something happens in our lives that upsets us, it is only natural to experience sadness as a result. However, sadness can feel much lighter than depression does. 

Additionally, sadness does not come with as many of the physical symptoms as depression does. Once you work through low feelings, you are able to move forward from sadness.

Depression, on the other hand, impacts you in such a way that is abnormal. You do not experience sadness on its own but additional symptoms of depression such as fatigue, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and a major shift in behavior. 

While your sadness may have one focus and trigger, depression tends to cause you to see everything in an adverse light. Put simply, sadness is an emotion that we feel when we deal with something that causes us distress. Depression is a mental illness that has a major impact on our lives.

One great way to understand the difference is to think about the way you are coping with a certain situation. For example, let’s imagine that you have recently lost your job. This is absolutely a situation that could trigger sadness. However, while you are sad about this loss, you still find joy in other things. 

You are able to work through your emotions and not let the situation interrupt your life in a big way. Sadness, like any other emotion, is something that we feel and process.

Now, let’s imagine that you have recently lost your job and are feeling sad about it. However, this sadness seems to stretch out for a considerable amount of time. You may feel like you will never be able to land another job. 

You may be sleeping more, eating more, and not caring about personal tasks and chores. If your sadness is impacting your life beyond just the loss that you have experienced, you are most likely dealing with depression. It’s important to remember that, like sadness, there are ways to alleviate depression and its symptoms.

What Do I Do Next?

Whether you are dealing with sadness or depression, the next best step to take is to reach out for help. Being able to talk to someone about the difficulties you are going through will allow you to receive the support that you need. 

Getting help will provide you with the coping mechanisms necessary to work through these difficult emotions. One option that you have is to seek out counseling resources in your area.

Are You Curious About The Difference Between Sadness And Depression?

For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling platform dedicated to helping individuals connect with the help that they need.

Feeling sad for an extended period of time can be concerning, but it isn’t always an indication of depression. Working with a BetterHelp therapist can be a beneficial way to determine if what you are feeling is in fact depression and can provide you with ways to cope and thrive. 

Online therapy is a great resource that allows you to get mental health expert from the comfort of your home. There are over 25,000 therapists, many of which specialize in working with individuals living with depression.

Once you find out how to know if you have depression, you can act and create a plan for a healthier and happier future. If you find that you relate to the symptoms of depression, take the first step by reaching out to a counselor.


Overall, we may have moments in our lives where we feel sadness and being able to know our own behavioral cues can be essential in preventing a depressive episode. Yet, if we find that we are experiencing depression, taking steps to seek help can limit the severity of symptoms. When we get help, we can move forward in a healthy and hopeful way.

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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