Dear Tacit mental health column
How do I know if I am depressed or just sad?
Signed: Got the Blues
Dear Got the Blues,
Your question is a great one – many people worry about this very thing. Sadness is a normal emotional state – it impacts all of us and there is no way to avoid feeling it. Sadness is often triggered by something – a loss, a memory, a change in our life. And it has what we call a discrete boundary to it – it has a starting point and an ending point. As we experience our sad periods (often called “the blues”), we can still have moments of regular emotions that surface – pleasure, satisfaction, contentment can still be felt in snippets, especially as the sadness begins to wane. Sometimes though, the ending point for our sadness seems a long way off, and we begin to worry that we are morphing into a form of depressive state.
We often describe some of our deeper sadness as depression – but there is a difference between experiencing a depressive period and being diagnosed with some form of depression (which is a mental health problem and falls under the category of a Mood Disorder). Diagnosable depression is more than just sadness – it is a chronic state of low feeling that interrupts one’s ability to function in everyday life. It permeates one’s thought patterns, emotions, perceptions and behaviours on a daily basis. And it is not linked directly to a trigger; it is pervasive and is not associated with a specific incident (although it may have initially started out as sadness and was not fully addressed).
Both sadness and depression can suck the life out of our happiness and joy – both can cause us to be exhausted and struggle with low-energy, both can deplete our motivation and our patience. But depression lasts longer and is more severe than sadness. And it alters our body/brain chemistry. We will need help finding ways to overcome the distorted thinking and physical functioning processes that develop. Sometimes, this help comes in the form of medication. But medication alone cannot combat depression completely. Some form of therapeutic support (like counselling, meditation, mindfulness training, etc) will be necessary if a person is going to learn how to master the effects of the depression, and not feel helpless because of it.
If you are not sure which it is that you are experiencing – sadness or depression – then I suggest you connect with a professional. Call a Help Line, or attend a walk-in clinic, or make an appointment with a counsellor – and discuss what it is that you are experiencing in detail with someone who is trained to assess the difference. That’s what they are there for, after all. Trained professionals have all sorts of information and strategies that they can teach you, for effectively managing both sadness and depression, so your life can be enjoyable again.
Kim Silverthorn B.A., R.P.C., M.P.C.C., C.T. is a registered MPCC through the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association and a registered CT through the Association of Clinical Therapists of Alberta. She is the owner of/therapist with Tacit Knowledge, a local counselling agency in Beaumont. She has been providing therapeutic support and professional development training for more than 30 years.
See more from Kim at https://www.tacitknows.com/. If you have a question that you would like Dear Tacit to answer relating to any mental health issue, please feel free to email Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is a psycho-educational support and is not designed to be a substitute for counselling.