In spite of the efforts made to raise awareness and end the stigmatization of mental illnesses, there still seems to be quite a bit of confusion amongst the public regarding depression.
It isn’t uncommon to hear people using the term “depressed” interchangeably with “feeling sad” — a misperception that is harmful in more ways than one. Before delving into that particular issue, however, it is important to outline the differences between feeling depressed and having depression.
Firstly, sadness is a normal element of the spectrum of human emotions and, although it can occur for reasons you can’t quite identify, is often attributed to a specific event (i.e., the death of a loved one, the loss of a romantic relationship or friendship, etc.).
On the other hand, depression is an abnormal mental state and illness that affects both the mind and body. It is also important to note that, while it can also be triggered by specific events, depression often rears its ugly head at the most inopportune times and for no apparent reason.
Secondly, sadness is a fleeting state. When a situation changes, feelings fade, or a sad person simply adapts to their feelings, their mood and outlook both improve and they return to their normal emotional equilibrium.
Depression is experienced for an extended period of time — usually two weeks or longer — and encompasses more than just feelings of sadness. Additional symptoms of depression include: loss of interest in one’s favorite activities, the inability to sleep at night, trouble with weight and/or appetite, and trouble concentrating.
Thirdly, sadness does not typically lead to perpetual sensations of guilt or worthlessness. While one may encounter temporary bouts of these feelings, they are simply that: temporary. Sad individuals are usually able to battle off their own guilt and rebuild their self-esteem by thinking positively, seeking encouragement from others, and other uplifting tactics.
Depressed individuals, however, are incredibly self-punishing. They’re unable to shake their feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and incapability due to their own critical inner voice, leaving them stuck in a vicious state of inconsolable self-hatred.
Finally, those who feel sad do not question their importance to the people around them. They also do not believe that the world would be a better place without them in it, for they still believe they hold positive and redeeming qualities.
According to the DSM, those suffering with depression may have a fascination with death, suicide, and may have even made a suicide attempt in the past.
Ignorance of the major differences between sadness and depression can lead to a plethora of issues. For example, a mildly depressed individual may brush off the symptoms they’re experiencing because they believe they’re merely rooted in sadness — an issue they will get over in time. Such a misunderstanding could lead them to neglect seeking treatment for their very real illness, which would only cause worsened symptoms in the future.
Conversely, a person who is genuinely sad may fear they’re depressed due to their lack of knowledge regarding the mental illness. Therefore, educating the public is the first — and most crucial — step to ending misperceptions about depression.
Nobody should shoulder the burden of mental illness alone. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms of depression, please seek counsel from a trained mental health specialist immediately to ensure you receive a proper diagnosis and treatment regimen.