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Is It Sadness or Depression? (And What to Do About Both)


Emcara Health Editors


January 23, 2023


Feeling down is part of life. But you don’t have to live with these feelings forever.

When you’re feeling sad, it can seem like the dark clouds will never clear—and if you’re reading this, odds are your sorrows aren’t easing on their own.

According to the CDC, at least one in six adults have experienced depression at some point in their life, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers have been on the rise.

The key difference between sadness and depression is that sadness is a temporary emotional response to a specific event, whereas depression is a type of mental illness that doesn’t go away with time. Feeling down consistently for two weeks or less is likely sadness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, while longer-term feelings of sorrow may be depression.

If you’ve been wondering whether lingering sadness is something more, you came to the right place. We consulted leading mental health providers and neuroscientific research to help you work through your emotions and start feeling better.

Signs and Symptoms of Sadness

Feeling sad is healthy and natural. As with emotions like anger and fear, it helps us navigate difficult situations and choose the right next step.

Processing and exploring those feelings is necessary for moving past the event that triggered them. Denying ourselves the opportunity to feel blue can prolong the sadness and increase other negative emotions.

Feelings of sadness are typically tied to a specific event, such as losing a job, relationship, or loved one. Even when the emotions are intense, such as during the grieving process, you’ll still be able to feel other emotions like love and happiness simultaneously—or at least intermittently. And most importantly, people who are sad (but not depressed) typically won’t feel like the world is inherently sad or hopeless, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Granted, a particularly difficult life event can cause intermittent and intense feelings of sadness that overlap with symptoms of depression. Such a trigger can even cause depression in someone who’s never felt depressive symptoms before, so it’s important to recognize and tend to your emotions to avoid a downward spiral.

When You May Have Depression

Researchers are still trying to figure out what causes depression. New research suggests it’s not as simple as a chemical imbalance in the brain, as has been long believed. Many different things can trigger a depressive episode, including physical or emotional abuse, a stressful life event, and even certain medications.

Mental health professionals tend to diagnose the disorder based on the presence of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or down for more than two weeks
  • Feeling depressed throughout the day and feeling depressed on most days
  • Reduced interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  • Difficulty eating or overeating, or sudden weight gain or loss
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping throughout the day due to extreme fatigue
  • Impaired concentration and ability to make decisions
  • Anxiety, irritability, restlessness, or agitated feelings
  • Feeling guilty or worthless for no apparent reason
  • Suicidal thoughts or thinking about death or dying
  • Other inexplicable physical ailments that coincide with the above symptoms

Your symptoms may align with a specific type of depression, such as those brought on by life events. Seasonal affective disorder, for example, comes from the disruptive effect of changing seasons on our internal clocks, typically beginning in late fall when daylight becomes more scarce, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Peripartum depression, meanwhile, may occur during pregnancy and postpartum depression can happen after childbirth—and more than 10% of new moms experience one or the other, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Diagnosing depression may involve a physical exam or lab test, according to the Mayo Clinic, but most diagnoses come from conversations between patients and providers. If you think you may have depression, talk to your Emcara Health care team to learn more about the mental health resources available to you

How to Ease Sadness or Depression

The same tools that can help you pull yourself out of a sadness rut can also help manage the symptoms of depression.

In the near-term, allow yourself to feel sad. Ignoring your feelings will make them worse, so make time to process your emotions and cut yourself some slack. Many psychologists also recommend journaling as a means of expressing your emotions and letting go of negative thoughts.

Your physical state can also influence feelings of sadness, so take care of your body. Eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, and don’t turn to alcohol or drugs to drown your sorrows. Other ways to take boost your mood:

  • Stay in touch. Reach out to your friends, family, and neighbors in person, online, or by phone. If you live with others, hug them often.
  • Pursue a new hobby or join a social group. There are many in-person and virtual options, from book clubs to game nights to walking groups. Check out your local community web site or social media page for ideas.
  • Move more. Exercise boosts your energy, and it often gets you outside and out of the house.
  • Adopt a pet or house plant. Taking care of something helps boost your mood and adds to your day.
  • Volunteer. Research has shown that volunteering can improve mental health, reduce depression and anxiety, and more. Those positive effects are especially evident among volunteers over age 60, researchers say.

The above interventions can help someone with depression, but they may not be enough on their own.

For ongoing depressive symptoms, many people find relief in medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It’s long been believed that these medications help treat depression by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, though recent research suggests that’s not exactly the case—some experts now believe these medications more likely improve how nerve cells in the brain communicate.

Your Emcara Health care team may also explore psychotherapy options such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. The former can help you train your brain to adjust to difficult situations and replace negative thoughts and behaviors with positive ones, while the latter helps you develop better relationships with the people you care about.

Thankfully, the holistic nature of Emcara Health at-home medical care means you don’t have to figure out the right balance of treatment options alone, and we may work with multiple professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, dietitians, and physical therapists to help you take control of your mood and happiness.

To learn more about Emcara Health, call 1-800-728-0901 from 8 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday.

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