You're probably used to hearing people say "I'm so depressed" in response to their favourite football team losing a match, or when they're under pressure at work. It's a common throwaway line, which in reality usually means "I'm upset" or "I'm stressed" or "I'm worn out".
However, many people do feel confused and concerned about the line between feeling sad and having depression. You may have been dismissing your emotions as "I'm just sad", or perhaps you've been wondering whether your symptoms actually indicate a mental health problem, rather than an everyday emotion.
If you think you may be suffering from a clinical mental health condition, such as depression, there are some signs to look out for. We asked RSCPP-listed Accredited Counsellor Karole Thomas to explain more:
Sadness can perhaps be best described as experiencing emotional pain relating to sorrow and feelings of loneliness and helplessness. In life we all experience stresses and challenges. We experience loss and change. On a daily basis we experience situations that can make our moods go up and down. Sadness or unhappiness is often a normal and appropriate response to a difficult situation. There are many events and stressors in life that make us feel these emotions as we cope with setbacks or loss. Experiencing sadness is not the same as experiencing depression although feeling sad can be one of the symptoms of depression.
Generally speaking sadness is temporary or shorter term in nature and is not usually a cause for worry. It is often connected to life changes (positive and negative) and can sometimes result in a person taking less care of themselves for a while. It will not normally involve feelings of suicide. It becomes a cause for concern when these feelings don't go away.
Depression is an illness and unlike sadness there may not be any apparent cause. You and those around you may mistake it for feeling sad or unhappy, and may expect you to ‘get over it' or ‘cheer up'. However, although everyone experiences life's ups and downs, not everyone goes on to develop depression. Depression is characterised by very negative thinking about yourself, others and the world and it becomes difficult for you to see anything in a positive light.
If you have depression, you will have a consistently low mood and/or a loss of interest in things that normally matter to you. If you experience these symptoms on most days, over a period of at least two weeks, then you may be suffering from depression. It can have a significant impact on your ability to function in the day to day, including interpersonal relationships, ability to work and deal with social situations. Sometimes the low mood may cause you so much emotional distress that you may consider suicide.
The symptoms of depression include the following emotions, physical symptoms, thoughts and behaviours:
These symptoms of depression are much more intense than those experienced as a regular ‘sad' response to life's ups and downs. At the extremes, people may have thoughts about not wanting to live anymore and have plans about how they would take their own life (suicidal ideation).
There are different types of depression, including:
Besides depression, a number of other mental health disorders have symptoms similar to 'sadness':
Depression can also arise from physical illness or other experiences including:
For more information, see our article on life events that can cause depression.