Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I’ve written before about how to deal with death, and one of the emotions felt with such catastrophic loss is sadness.
But how do we know if we’re just sad and not depressed? This can be a toughie to figure out. What exactly is depression vs. sadness and how can you tell if you’re depressed or just sad?
I want to try and give you a layman’s guide to determining the difference between sadness and depression. But before we get to the layman’s guide and how best to cope with either depression or sadness, we should see what that classic book the DSM-IV has to say about it.
The DSM-IV classifies both Dysthymic Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder as Mood Disorders. The difference between the 2 is that in the case of Dysthymia the symptoms are chronic (meaning they last longer, usually longer than 2 years) but they are less severe than in a Major Depressive Disorder.
According to Wikipedia, the DSM-IV-TR (Text Revision) and the ICD-10 “…defines three typical depressive symptoms (depressed mood, anhedonia, and reduced energy), two of which should be present to determine depressive disorder diagnosis.”
Anhedonia basically means the inability to feel pleasure. Dysthymia is basically a mild but persistent depression.
I don’t know about you, but that information from the DSM-IV is not very helpful. So let me try and break it down into a more practical understanding of depression and sadness.
This is what depression means to me. Depression (of which I’ve suffered) is an ongoing non specific feeling of sadness and lethargy. Depression seems to have not definable cause to its existence. I.e. there is nothing that I can specifically point to that says, yes, that is the reason I am depressed.
Depression often includes the feeling of sadness, but more than that, depression is generally often a lack of feeling. I feel empty, unmotivated and I have low energy, a lack of appetite though I might eat to comfort myself.
When I am depressed I find no joy in things that used to bring me joy. Life seems meaningless and empty, just a meandering journey of nothingness.
The key feelings and thoughts with depression are emptiness. You might feel sad but generally that sadness has no defined cause. Although overwhelmingly you feel like life is meaningless and perhaps you even feel suicidal, if only to end the vacuum and overwhelming meaningless and nothingness of life.
Oftentimes, if depression lasts more than a few weeks you will need the help of a counsellor, psychologist or even psychiatrist and perhaps medication in severe cases. There is no shame in seeking the help of professionals and of pharmaceuticals if that is required. Though I recommend the use of drugs only as a last resort.
If your depression is causing you to have suicidal thoughts, please access this International Suicide Prevention Wiki where you can find help and telephone numbers to help you with any of the problems you are dealing with currently. I don’t want to lose you. You have great things to offer the larger community.
So the above is my understanding of how I view depression and what sorts of feelings or lack of feelings are associated with it.
Sadness can be an aspect of depression, but if you are only sad then you are not depressed in my opinion. And this is how I see sadness. Sadness is a deep feeling of sorrow, loss and inner anguish. Sadness will usually have a cause if you take a moment to assess it.
Sadness is oftentimes associated with grief and loss. You might have lost a limb or a loved one. Maybe you are sad because of the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Andy type of loss can give rise to sadness. If you were unable to get into that program or school of your choice that is a loss too and can give rise to sadness.
Because we are individuals, our feelings associated with sadness and what we can become sad about are as varied as we are. We all also deal with sadness in our own ways and sadness can last days through weeks and months.
The only caveat I offer is that sadness if not dealt with can morph into depression so please be aware of that. Sadness needs to be worked through. You need to allow time to mourn, cry or get angry at the loss you’ve experienced. But you also need to find ways to work through the loss and grief you feel and that might also entail seeking professional help and counselling.
In summary, depression is more omniscient, it colours everything and fills us with emptiness. Depression is in a sense hopelessness at a deep and ongoing level and depression might also include feelings of sadness. Depression often requires professional help.
Sadness is more of a specific feeling or emotion attached to loss and grief. Rather than emptiness it is a deep cut to our psyche and should be worked through in our own ways and in our own time.
Hope this helps you and that you can find the resources and inner strength to manage either your depression or your sadness.