Depression vs. Sadness: What’s the Difference?

It is absolutely normal to feel sad from time to time.
Sadness is a human emotion that all people feel at certain times during their lives. Movies, TV shows, social media, and advertisements may make it seem like most people are happy all the time, but life naturally comes with ups and downs. Feeling sad is a natural reaction to situations that cause emotional upset or pain. There are varying degrees of sadness. But like other emotions, sadness is temporary and fades with time. In this way, sadness differs from depression.
Depression is a longer-term mental illness. It impairs social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. Left untreated, symptoms of depression may last for a long time.

Risk Factors for Depression

There are several risk factors for depression. But having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll become depressed. Risk factors include:

  • early childhood or teenage trauma
  • inability to cope with a devastating life event, such as the death of a child or spouse, or any situation that causes extreme levels of pain
  • low self-esteem
  • a family history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder or depression
  • history of substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol
  • lack of family or community acceptance for identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
  • trouble adjusting to a medical condition, such as cancer, stroke, chronic pain, or heart disease
  • trouble adjusting to body changes due to catastrophic injury, such as loss of limbs, or paralysis
  • history of prior mental health disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety disorder
  • lack of a support system, such as friends, family, or coworkers

Symptoms of depression

Mental health professionals use the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 criteria) to help determine if someone is sad or depressed. You may receive a diagnosis of depression if you meet the criteria.

  • Depressed mood (i.e., sad, empty, hopeless)
  • Diminished of pleasure in all (or almost all) activities
  • Change in weight more than 5% in one month when not dieting
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • Psychomotor changes (slowed down or sped up) – must be observed by others
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal attempts

If you have had 5 (or more) of the following symptoms for more than 2 consecutive weeks, we highly encourage you to visit a Health Care Professional.

Building a Stronger Brain

If you’re experiencing sadness, some minor lifestyle changes may help. Building a better brain through lifestyle changes and correct nutrition can help you rebound mentally and physically.

1.- Meditation:

Studies out of the University of Exeter found that daily 30-minute mindfulness meditation sessions are better than drugs or counseling alone for depression. Three-quarters of patients in one study felt good enough to stop taking antidepressants after four months with no other intervention besides MBCT.

Mindfulness and meditation studies are showing promising results in alleviating symptoms like pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and disordered eating.

2.- Get Some Sun:

Sunlight helps you relax through the release of endorphins. These hormones can also help reduce pain, support hormone regulation, and even inhibit cancer growth. Sunlight also increases dopamine. This is good news if you suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder, which suggest low levels of dopamine, and even Parkinson’s disease, where dopamine neurons are damaged.


A study by Dr. Andrea Dunn found that patients who did the equivalent of 35 minutes’ walking, six days per week, experienced a reduction in their level of depression by 47 percent. This study, conducted at the Cooper Research Institute in Dallas, Texas, shows that as little as three hours of regular exercise a week reduces the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as Prozac and other antidepressants.

4.- Eat Well:

When we take a close look at the diet of depressed people, an interesting observation is that their nutrition is far from adequate. They make poor food choices and selecting foods that might actually contribute to depression. Recent evidence suggests a link between low levels of serotonin and suicide.

Having a healthy diet, (Eating lots of greens, fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish) can help reducing depression symptoms, making you feel healthier (which is a major reason to feel happier).
Good sources of healthy proteins include beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soy products, and yogurt.

At Rehealth, we believe that having informed patients is the only way to deliver optimal healthcare. Please visit our website to find out more interesting content and be a part of an amazing health integrated community!


Michelle Ibarra

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