Sadness is a three-step process involving your brain, body, and behaviors. However, when it comes to depression, it’s more than just being sad.
Physiological Response to Being Sad
Suppose you are given the news that your best friend is moving across the country. Suppose you lose the pet that has been with you for years. Or you hear a song on the radio that reminds you of a broken relationship. In these moments, your brain sends signals between the amygdala, hippocampus, and other parts of the brain that bring up memories related to a best friend, pet, or long-lost love.
Such activity in the brain triggers a physiological response such as sweating, feeling an emptiness or nervousness in your stomach, panic, or shaking and trembling. The physiological reactions trigger a behavioral response, such as facial expressions, hand gestures, crying, or running away.
Emotions Are Natural
Emotions, like sadness, are natural and normal. A range of emotions can occur daily. You may feel happy in the morning, get angry and frustrated while driving to work, and then happy again after completing a big project.
Ordinary emotional experiences are not disorders. So, why is depression more than being sad?
Let’s find out.
What is Depression?
Feeling sad is temporary. It may be heart-wrenching and unbearable, but after a few days or weeks, the sadness lessens, and you can get back to work, school, home, and social responsibilities.
Depression occurs when the feelings of sadness worsen rather than get better. There are specific criteria set forth by the American Psychological Association that must be present to receive a diagnosis of depression. Five or more of the eight main symptoms must be present in two weeks. Symptoms that are present for most of your days include:
- Feeling depressed
- Losing interest in activities
- Changing appetite and weight
- Slowing down physically, verbally, and cognitively
- Feeling tired and without energy
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Having difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide
Depression vs. Sadness
When comparing depression and sadness, there are notable differences between the two. Sadness is a symptom of depression that lasts a long time. Also, a depressed person can feel sad about anything, everything, or for an unknown reason. Sadness is typically associated with a particular event.
With sadness, your emotions may go up and down. You may want to cry for a while but then laugh and hang out with friends later. Depression is a constant state of feeling down. When you are sad, you can continue working, attending school, and caring for your household. You are still able to sleep, eat, and complete duties. Depression, however, suppresses your appetite, disturbs sleep, and makes you want to avoid all responsibilities. You may want to stay in bed all day.
Why Some People Are Better at Handling Emotions
Have you ever met someone who seems to be happy no matter what trauma or negative experiences they encounter in life? You may wonder how they can always be happy when you seem on an emotional roller coaster. One answer may be due to their level of resilience or ability to recover and return to a positive mental state quickly.
Another reason is they have depression. While they seem resilient, they may show a flat affect, meaning they cannot express emotions. Alexithymia and anhedonia are conditions that make it hard to recognize and express their feelings.
Who Gets Sad and Depressed?
Sadness can affect everyone. Depression affects many people, but there are still more people who do not experience depression than those who do. Currently, 17.3 million, or 7.1%, of American adults are diagnosed with depression. Nearly two million children under 17 have depression. So, what causes someone to get depression?
There is not a single factor that causes depression. Instead, things happen to you throughout your life that make you more likely to develop depression. These things are called risk factors and may include one, two, or all the following:
- Genetics. Some genes specific to depression can be passed down from your family members to you. Having the gene does not mean you will automatically have depression. When combined with other risk factors, your odds increase.
- Brain Chemistry. Neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for mood can become out of balance for reasons beyond your control. Serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, GABA, and norepinephrine are examples of brain chemicals that, when low, can lead to depression.
- Past Traumas. Emotional, sexual, and physical abuse are examples of past trauma. Also, war combat, natural disasters, the death of a loved one, and anything that dramatically impacts your physical and psychological well-being.
- Personal Relationships. Marriage, divorce, parent-child problems, and your relationship with yourself can be risk factors for depression.
- Drug and Alcohol Misuse. Prescription medicines, illicit drugs, and alcohol change the brain’s structure and how the neurotransmitters function. Misuse or substance use disorders create an imbalance of the chemicals associated with mood.
- Medications. Some medications have side effects that include depression.
- Major Life Changes. Good and bad significant life changes can cause depressive symptoms. Retirement is one example. Others include moving, having a baby, quitting a job, starting a new career, purchasing a new home, getting married, being deployed, and returning from deployment.
Treatment for Depression and Sadness
Depression may be one of the most researched conditions among mental health disorders. The research helps professionals develop effective treatments for depression and sadness.
Sadness is temporary and can be treated best by meeting with a licensed mental health professional to learn easy coping tools. Short-term therapy benefits emotional and physical well-being.
Depression is multi-layered and may require more treatment. To rebalance brain chemistry, antidepressants are incredibly effective, especially when combined with cognitive-behavioral therapies and peer support.
Today, you can begin treatment for depression and sadness by reaching out to the Heights Treatment for guidance. You will have a team of professionals on your side to give you back the happy life you deserve.
- Cherney K. Alexithymia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. Healthline. Published September 9, 2021. Accessed October 4, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/alexithymia
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Depression Statistics. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Accessed October 4, 2022. https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/depression/statistics/
Last medically reviewed October 4, 2022