The Difference Between Sadness and Depression

There was a time when being sad was as uncomfortable for me as for the next person. When I dreaded facing an event that would send tears spilling down my cheeks and leave me with a pile of crumpled tissues. Enter depression, and everything changed.

These days, I can honestly say that there are times when I look forward to being sad. When tears of real sadness stream down my face, I am so grateful to feel an emotion that I am supposed to be feeling, given my surroundings. I literally smile, relieved by the knowledge that I am sad, not depressed, and that I have learned to tell the difference. Because once, long ago, I felt sad all the time, and I didn’t understand why.

So, what is the difference between sadness and depression?

In my experience, sadness has a reason; depression does not. Sadness is what you feel when something upsetting happens. Something like your cat dying, or your best friend moving far away. Depression is something that makes you feel sad all the time, regardless of your actual circumstances; depression makes you feel sad, but you don’t know why.

But, although it makes you feel sad, depression is not the same as sadness. It is something more extreme. I say this because in many cases, depression eventually leads down dangerous paths, including suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

After suffering through a long period of depression during college, I began to equate depression with danger. The mild feeling of sadness that I initially experienced snowballed into sadness so unbearable, I would have done anything to escape it. And there seemed to be no reason for it. I ended up in the hospital, thankfully before I did any harm to myself.

Today, I know why I sometimes feel sad for no reason: I have Bipolar Disorder, and a lot of the time I experience Bipolar Depression (which has no clear distinction from “unipolar” depression, except that those with Bipolar Disorder also periodically experience heightened states known as mania or hypomania). Unfortunately, knowing why it happens doesn’t make the depression that much easier to handle. But when I feel sad—for real—I am now able to welcome it.

For me, today, sadness is a safe place. In the end, sadness feels bad, but I know it will go away. Sadness feels bad, but I know why I feel it. Sadness feels bad, but it will not kill me.


Do you agree with my explanation of sadness vs. depression? If not, how would you change it?


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3 thoughts on “The Difference Between Sadness and Depression

  1. Good post. In addition to what you’ve already said, I think we can add two other things.

    First, depression can crowd out most other emotions. When I’ve been depressed the depression has usually be associated with a narrowing of my emotions down to sadness, anger, hatred, etc. Such things as gratitude and even genuine love became hard to feel. But sadness — you can snap out of sadness into joy or some emotion almost instantly at times.

    Second, depression — unlike sadness — is very much a lens through which we look at life. A lens that often tells us things like “it’s useless. There’s no hope It will never work”. Sadness isn’t a lens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great points! I suppose it was rather ambitious of me to try and capture such a complicated topic in 300-500 words. But that is part of what I love about the comments section–you get additional perspectives that you may not have addressed or even considered

      Liked by 1 person

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