These feelings may come and go, or we may find that they are hard to shake, lasting for extended periods of time. While all of these emotions can be a normal part of life, sometimes they are indicative of a mental health disorder known as clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, which requires professional help to overcome. It is important to know the difference between these “normal” feelings and major depressive disorder, which is a serious medical condition.
Temporary sadness is exactly as it sounds- temporary. It is triggered by a difficult event or experience, meaning that we can often identify the root cause of the feeling. These experiences can range from the mundane, like a bad day at work or an argument with a loved one, to more serious events like a death in the family or loss of employment. As we adjust to the changes that have caused the feeling (as we start a new day, reconcile our disagreements, etc.) the feeling begins to fade, even if it does not do so immediately. Larger life changes often have longer adjustment periods- it will take you longer to adjust to the death of a loved one than it will to adjust to an argument over taking out the garbage. It is important to recognize that just because a feeling of sadness lasts for longer than we would like it to, that does not necessarily signify that an individual is suffering from clinical depression.
Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is a condition that affects an individual’s behaviors and thinking in an intense and chronic way. The feeling can be paralyzing, causing the one who is suffering to feel depressed about everything in their life, whether or not there has been a cause. Everything seems to be surrounded by a heavy, dark feeling, and even activities that once brought joy (attending a child’s sporting event or a friend’s birthday party) may be overwhelming and bring about a feeling of dread. A person struggling with clinical depression may find themselves avoiding such events, as the negative feelings they experience are just too strong. It is important to recognize that unlike temporary sadness, clinical depression is chemical in nature; it is an imbalance in the brain and is recognized as a disease.
There are several ways that people can tell the difference between temporary sadness and clinical depression, and it is important to know when it is necessary to seek professional care. You will notice the fading feeling of temporary sadness; it will become easier and easier to cope with as time passes. On the other hand, clinical depression often becomes worse over time if treatment is not sought, and a person may feel as if things will never get better. Clinical depression is often accompanied by physical symptoms; aches and pains, headaches or upset stomach. The disorder can make it difficult to even get out of bed and a person may find themselves either sleeping excessively, or not sleeping at all. Simple tasks and responsibilities, such as cleaning the house or getting dressed may seem impossible. Thoughts like “this will never get better,” “there is no point in trying,” and “people would be better off without me,” are serious indicators that a person is suffering from clinical depression. With feelings of temporary sadness, people often have hope that things will improve, even if they know it will take time; there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. If you are experiencing any of the feelings associated with clinical depression it is important to seek help as soon as possible, since the condition is treatable. Individual therapy and medication are options for those who are struggling, and many do recover with the proper help.
If a person is experiencing thoughts of hurting themselves or others, it is important to seek help IMMEDIATELY. An individual experiencing suicidal or homicidal ideation should be brought to a safe place where they can be monitored and receive professional help immediately. This can be done at your local emergency room.