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The Difference Between Sadness & Clinical Depression

depression and nausea

Clinical Director of Mental Health Services, Rob Cole, LMHC, Explains the Difference Between Sadness and Clinical Depression 

At one time or another, everyone will experience feelings of sadness, grief, or they will feel as if they lack a sense of purpose in life. These feelings may come and go, or we may find that they are hard to shake, lasting for extended periods of time. While all 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. Banyan Treatment Center is exploring the difference between sadness and depression and when it could be best to seek out professional help. 

Am I Just Sad? 

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 be caused by a variety of factors ranging from the mundane, like a difficult 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.  

How to Diagnose Depression  

The best way to diagnose depression is through the treatment of a medical professional. They will check for certain symptoms and their frequency. To be diagnosed, a person must exhibit five symptoms every day and all day for at least two weeks. Your primary care physician can offer a diagnosis and refer you to a mental health professional.1 

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 there has been a cause. Everything is surrounded by a heavy, dark feeling. 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 because 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. It may also require psychiatric treatment intervention to experience a noticeable improvement. No matter the case, if you find yourself struggling to manage on a regular basis, there are resources available. For instance, many of our Banyan locations offer mental health treatment programs that can address your symptoms and aid you in reclaiming your life. 

Sadness vs. Depression  

There are several ways that people can tell the difference between sadness and depression, and it is important to know when it is necessary to seek professional care. You will notice the fading feeling of temporary sadness, and 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 out, 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 stomachs. The disorder can make it difficult to even get out of bed. 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 temporary sadness, people can maintain hope that things will improve, even if they know it will take time. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and they are still able to visualize it despite their negative feelings. That is not to say that adjustment disorders like situational depression do not hold their own weight. This diagnosis is typical after a person experiences a traumatic or series of troubling events. They will exhibit many similar symptoms to clinical depression within three months of the event. Although it is easier to pinpoint what brought these feelings about, professional intervention may be necessary. 

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. Since it is common for addictions to arise from a depressive diagnosis, treatment for any co-occurring disorders could be a good option to comprehensively address whatever that patient is struggling with. Additionally, our addiction treatment facilities offer a variety of effective therapy programs that can therapeutically confront the negative cycles and damaging thought patterns that are playing a role. 

If a person is experiencing thoughts of hurting themselves or others, it is important to seek help IMMEDIATELY. An individual that is 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. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, or any other mental health disorder, call our Banyan Treatment Center locations today at 888-280-4763 for a free and confidential assessment. 



  1. NIMH - Depression 


Related Reading  

Silent Depression: The Signs We Tend to Miss 

Cognitive Symptoms of Depression 


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
The Difference Between Sadness & Clinical Depression
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