How do I tell if I'm sad or depressed?

Because we associate depression with sadness we can sometimes struggle to tell the difference. This can be a problem for some and I’ve seen many people over the years struggling with depression who thought they were merely sad. I’ve also met many people who were extremely sad and worried they might be depressed.

So how can we tell the difference between, on the one hand, a normal human emotion that every one of us experiences from time to time and something deeper that may indicate a more long-term mental health issue (and one that can affect our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviours in pervasive and chronic ways)?

One way is to reflect on how wide ranging our feelings of sadness are. People do not always become depressed in response to a particular trigger or event (such as a loss, or a change of circumstance). In fact, tracing the initial cause of depression can often be very difficult: life on paper might be totally fine— we may even admit to ourselves that this is true — and yet we still feel horrible.

Depression can colour every part of life, contaminating and destroying any joy or happiness we may normally feel that would counterbalance it. It drains our strength, drive and desire (or ability) to feel joy, pleasure, excitement, anticipation, satisfaction, connection or meaning. Our tolerance for the normal trials and tribulations of daily life is also lower. We’re more impatient, likely to feel anger more quickly or get frustrated, quicker to break down. Essentially, we lose a good chunk of our resilience.

If you think you or a loved one might be depressed there are many routes forward open to you. Firstly, and most importantly, it is important to seek help from a trained professional. Talking to your GP, arranging to see a counsellor or psychotherapist can be a good first step. Depression is, unfortunately, a common mental illness and there are many treatments that benefit most people. Sadness and depression are not the same thing. One is a normal response to tough times; the other is a serious (and treatable) illness.

Help is out there, don’t suffer in silence.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

Share this article with a friend

Written by a listed counsellor/therapist

Show comments

Find a counsellor or psychotherapist dealing with depression

All therapists are verified professionals.

Real Stories

More stories

Related Articles

More articles