Depression vs. Sadness

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on June 28, 2021

Sooner or later, everyone gets the blues. Feeling sadness, loneliness, or grief when you go through a difficult life experience is part of being human. And most of the time, you can continue to function. You know that in time you will bounce back, and you do.

But what if you don’t bounce back? What if your feelings of sadness linger, are excessive, or interfere with your work, sleep, or recreation? What if you’re feeling fatigue or worthlessness, or experiencing weight changes along with your sadness? You may be experiencing major depression.

Also known as clinical depression, major depressive disorder, or unipolar depression, major depression is a medical condition that goes beyond life’s ordinary ups and downs. Almost 18.8 million American adults experience depression each year, and women are nearly twice as likely as men to develop major depression. People with depression cannot simply “pull themselves together” and get better. Treatment with counseling, medication, or both is key to recovery.

What Is Sadness?

Everyone feels sad or down sometimes. It can even be good for you, because it allows you to process a negative event in a healthy way. You can often distract yourself by doing something you enjoy or by talking with a friend or a therapist.

But if it doesn’t go away with time, or if it gets in the way of your everyday life, sadness might turn into depression.

Major Depression: What Are the Symptoms?

Depression shows itself in different ways. Common depression symptoms are:

  • Depressed mood, sadness, or an “empty” feeling, or appearing sad or tearful to others
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or significant weight gain (for example, more than 5% of body weight in a month)
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  • Restlessness or irritation (irritable mood may be a symptom in children or adolescents too), or feelings of “dragging”
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide

Depression Treatment: When Should You Get Help?

If you have five or more of these symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, and the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your daily activities, you may have major depression. Your primary care doctor is a good place to start. Your doctor can screen you for depression, and help you manage and treat your symptoms so that you can feel better.

Show Sources


University of New Mexico Counseling Assistance and Referral Services: “Coping with the Blues”

University of Michigan: “Depressive Disorders”

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital: “Major Depression”

University of Michigan Depression Center: “Major Depressive Disorder”

The Journal of the American Medical Association: “Recommendations for Screening Depression in Adults,” Vol. 315, No. 4, January 26, 2016.

Mental Health America: “Am I depressed or just sad?”

Blanchard Valley Health System: “Depression versus Sadness.”

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