They are two different concepts and at the same time with several points in common. Two ideas often misinterpreted and too often confused.
It’s the sadness and the depression, Two terms that we propose today to clarify and differentiate once and for all. These differences are not limited only to the emotional expression of the two sensations, but also concern the psychological and psychophysiological causes that give rise to each of them.
Sadness and depression: a harmful confusion
There is a terrible confusion between the two 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 a person with little training on the subject. Fortunately, mental health professionals know that, based on a good deal of scientific research, there are signs and signals of a different nature that can differentiate these two conditions.
In summary, we can explain up to six basic points of knowing when we are dealing with a sad person, or in front of someone who suffers from a depression.
- To learn more: “Are there different types of depression?”
1. Depression is a psychological disorder
Depression is a psychopathology in which, for different causes and reasons, the affected person manifests certain symptoms: sadness, apathy, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness … That is to say, sadness is only one facet depression.
While sadness is a passing mental state, people with depression are chronically uncomfortable and anxious. To be diagnosed with depression, a person must be at least six months old with this type of symptom picture.
2. Sadness is a relatively transient state of mind
Feeling sad is a relatively common psychological condition, And this in itself is not an indicator of a mental disorder. It is simply the psychological reaction to something that has hurt us or to difficult circumstances from which we find it difficult to escape. The appearance of sadness, crying and crying is quite normal.
Sadness is another of human emotions, and it’s not bad and we shouldn’t worry too much about someone being sad for a few days. We can be sad when we lose a family member or close friend, we can feel sad when a plan is interrupted, and we may even feel this for no apparent reason, maybe because of a hormonal change or because we woke up low spirits.
Therefore, one of the differences between sadness and depression is that the former is to be expected, when few people develop depression in their lifetime.
3. Neuroimaging tests
As we see in the image below these lines, people with depression have a level of activation in various areas of the brain clearly inferior to healthy people. Thanks to different neuroimaging techniques, we can observe that the depressed brain is clearly differentiated from the healthy brain.
In addition, serotonin levels are much lower in people with depressive disorder, which influences a large number of mental processes. A sad person, on the other hand, does not experience such drastic or lasting changes in their brain activating dynamics.
Abulia is characterized by affecting people with depression and leaving them totally (or partially) unable to cope with everyday life.. Going to work, shopping, or doing management becomes an impossible task for patients with this type of condition.
Somehow, people with depression feel like there is nothing they can do and act on it accordingly. They lack initiative for the most part, from combing to going out into the streets.
Abulia and the different behavioral effects of people with depression are not something they choose for themselves. The cause of these behavioral manifestations lies in the deterioration of the nervous and immune system. Abulia can be common in sad people and people with depression. The difference is that depressed people experience this apathy for weeks or even months..
5. When sadness goes too far
Sometimes, prolonged sadness over time can lead to a case of depression. The gradual deterioration in the quality of life of the affected person can be noticed as he becomes unable to perform his daily tasks, is frequently affected (crying, isolation) and is very limited by his psychological state.
If this situation lasts for several months, it is possible that the person is plunged into the development of a depressive image. So, part of the difference between sadness and depression is quantitative. But there is also a qualitative difference: In depression, it is often impossible to identify the fact or memory that generates the discomfort. It is something that does not happen when we are sad; in these situations we feel this because of a fact that we more or less know.
6. Sadness does not need therapy; depression, yes
As we have seen, a state of common sadness is fleeting and no longer matters. It is very likely that people going through a period of emotional pain do not need specific professional support. Simply returning to the routine and informal support of your friends, family and loved ones can be more than enough to get life back on track and they can overcome this state of sadness.
however, depression is a serious disorder that needs to be treated by a professional, Because it very significantly affects the quality of a person’s life. Accurate diagnosis and therapy focused on cognitive restructuring and, if necessary, psychotropic drugs, can decisively help the patient to regain his psychological well-being and maintain it over time, avoiding relapses.
Another way of looking at it is to think of sadness as a useful emotion. It serves to add an emotional tone to certain memories and therefore to make wiser decisions in the future. The difference between depression and sadness would, then, be the second in an alteration in the normal functioning of the brain, which is not useful but is a barrier. This is why it is considered that the symptoms of depressive disorders should be alleviated, and work is currently underway to get to the root of the problem and eliminate the disorder itself, Although at the moment it is not known how to do it and many years of research are to come.
- Foti, D. et al (2014). Reward Dysfunction in Major Depression: Multimodal Neuroimaging Tests to Refine the Melancholic Phenotype. NeuroImage, 101, pages 50-58.
- Triglia, Adrián; Regader, Bertrand; García-Allen, Jonathan (2016). Psychologically speaking. Paidós.