Depression: When It Feels Normal

Medically reviewed by Jerry Crimmins, PsyD, LP
Updated January 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The terms “sadness” and “depression” are often used interchangeably. However, while sadness is an emotion, depression is a clinically recognized mental health disorder. Although feeling sad can be a symptom of depression, individuals living with depression experience symptoms besides brief periods of sadness. We’re going to cover the symptoms of depression and how they differ from regular feelings of sadness.

Living With Depression Can Be Challenging

The Triggers Of Depression

When a loved one passes, a favorite neighbor moves away, or an ice cream shop discontinues your favorite flavor, individuals may experience sadness. These uncomfortable feelings are a natural reaction to an unfavorable event.

A person who is feeling sad may cry, vent to a friend, or do an activity they enjoy. Afterward, they often find their sadness has dissipated or at least decreased.

Depression, on the other hand, doesn’t always have a trigger. Individuals living with depression may feel sad even after they receive a promotion at work, spend a pleasant day with loved ones, or eat their favorite meal. Sadness related to depression exists despite life events.

With that said, certain events can trigger depressive episodes. Feelings of sadness and grief after a loss can transform into depression. However, if this happens, the individual typically feels low about more than just the triggering event.

Depression Timeline

According to the DSM-5, symptoms of depression must occur most of the day for at least two weeks. Therefore, if a person is feeling sad for one day and fine the next two, they are likely not experiencing depression. Similarly, if an individual is sad for a few minutes or even an hour each day but happy the rest of the day, they are not living with depression.

Depression Symptoms

While sadness can be a symptom of depression, it’s not the only one. Depression is a complex mental illness characterized by numerous symptoms, and these differ from individual to individual and even from depressive episode to depressive episode.

For someone to be diagnosed with depression, they must be experiencing a depressed mood or a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy for at least two weeks. In addition to exhibiting at least one of these two symptoms, an individual must also exhibit at least four of the following symptoms.

  • Significant weight loss or gain, or a large decrease or increase in appetite

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Loss of energy, increased fatigue, or an increase in the time it takes to complete tasks

  • Changes in purposeless physical activity (such as hand wringing or pacing); or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)

  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt

  • Cognitive difficulties, such as difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions

  • *Suicidal thoughts or intentions

*If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988, and is available 24/7.

When To Seek Help

If you are experiencing intense feelings of sadness or have lost interest in activities you once enjoyed, you may want to seek professional help. This is especially true if you are facing difficulties with fulfilling responsibilities such as work, taking care of yourself, and maintaining relationships.

A psychologist or psychiatrist will be able to diagnose any mental illnesses you may be living with. At this point, you can begin to seek appropriate treatment. While you can continue working with a psychologist or psychiatrist, other options exist.

Licensed therapists can help you work through symptoms you are experiencing using a variety of therapeutic approaches. A therapist can also serve as a reliable and understanding person who can support you as you process your feelings.

Types Of Treatment

Depression is a serious mental illness that can warrant professional treatment. While living with depression may make it seem like your symptoms will never change, help is out there, and it is possible to learn how to manage symptoms of depression.

One type of treatment for depression is psychotherapy. This involves talking with a licensed professional to change thoughts and feelings. Studies have shown that psychotherapy methods including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and supportive therapy can lead to reduced symptoms of depression. A licensed therapist can help you determine which treatment approach is best for you.

Medication may also be an effective form of treatment for depression. However, it’s important to note the power of combining therapy with medication. A review of 115 studies found that combining cognitive behavioral therapy with pharmacology provided better results than pharmacology alone. Additionally, combining therapy with medication decreased the likelihood that an individual would experience a relapse of symptoms.

Living With Depression Can Be Challenging

Connect With An Online Therapist

While therapy is an effective way to manage the symptoms of depression, these same symptoms can make it difficult to seek treatment. A lack of energy may make it difficult to leave the house and trouble thinking and remembering can make it difficult to arrive at appointments on time. Online therapy removes some of these hurdles by allowing you to connect with a therapist from anywhere with a stable internet connection.

Online therapy has also been shown to offer results that are similar to those that come with in-person therapy. A recent literature review looked at 17 separate studies that compared online CBT with in-person CBT. Results showed that online CBT was more effective than traditional CBT at reducing depression symptoms.

Takeaway

Most everyone feels sad, lost, or melancholy at some point in their lives. However, if these feelings become persistent and powerfully impact your life, you may be experiencing depression. Depression is a serious mental illness, but treatment can help reduce your symptoms.

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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