Sadness vs. Depression: What Are the Key Differences?

Sadness vs. Depression: What Are the Key Differences?

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Feeling sad is a component of depression, but that doesn’t mean that experiencing sadness is always a symptom of depression.

Understanding the differences between sadness and depression can give us useful insight into our experiences, and help us recognize when it may be necessary to seek professional help. 


Sadness is an emotion that’s often triggered by situations that are upsetting, painful, or humiliating. 

Depression is a mental health condition that may not have a specific trigger. It negatively impacts our mood, our self-image, our ability to do daily activities, and how we view the world around us. 


Sadness is temporary and tends to become less intense over time. It can last for a few hours, days, or weeks.

Depression is a more long term condition. It can last for months or years, with episodes that come and go.  


Sadness is often clearly visible through signs like crying or withdrawal from others. 

Depression is often invisible, with little to no correlation between the severity of symptoms and how visible it is to others. Someone experiencing depression may show up to work and appear fine to their colleagues, while another person may be visibly sad with no motivation to do anything. 

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Often having a low mood or feeling sad
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Feeling exhausted all the time
  • Having no interest in doing things that used to be enjoyable
  • Often feeling worthless or guilty
  • Frequently feeling irritable or angry
  • Slower speech or movements 
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things 
  • Changes in appetite or sleeping habits



    Sadness is usually caused by a recent negative event that is affecting us in the present, such as a break-up or job loss. 

    Depression can be caused by a number of factors, some of which may have happened many years ago, like childhood mistreatment or bullying. Genetics can also play a role in experiencing depression.

     If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, we highly encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional. There are many methods that can help manage depression, and help you or the ones you love to start feeling better.

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