You are currently viewing Sadness or Depression?

Sadness or Depression?

Is what I’m feeling sadness or depression? People often worry that their feelings of sadness are going to turn into depression, or indeed ARE a sign that they are depressed. But sadness and depression are very different and this blog looks at the key differences between the two. 

Feeling low or feeling depressed?

Thankfully we are a lot more aware of depression and other types of mental illness. When we say we are ‘feeling low’ or ‘feeling down,’  we are probably feeling sad. Sometimes we can use the word “depressed” to describe the same kind of feeling. But if the feeling eventually goes away on its own, if it doesn’t impact our life in a big way, it probably isn’t depression.

Sadness is normal and universal

Sadness is a normal and universal human emotion that everyone feels from time to time. It is often associated with a difficult life event such as a loss of a loved one, a relationship breakup, loss of a job or an experience of illness. One of the most commonly expressed feelings about the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on our lives is sadness. Sadness at being separated from those we love, sadness that many of the activities we enjoyed, such as travel or going to a live music gig, are no longer available to us. 

An emotion vs serious mental illness

When we feel sad, sadness is the dominant emotion BUT it can be broken up by periods of lighter mood. It can also be relieved (even if temporarily) by talking things through with a close friend or family member, crying, exercising or other methods of releasing emotion. 

Like other emotions, sadness varies in intensity and duration, but ultimately is temporary and eventually resolves and fades with time. 


Depression is a serious medical illness that interferes with how a person thinks, feels and acts. People with depression often feel sad, but they also feel helpless and hopeless and have an inability to experience pleasure paired with physical symptoms, such as changes in sleep, energy, appetite and ability to concentrate.

There are certain key symptoms of depression including:

  • Low mood throughout the day on most or all days
  • A lack of interest and enjoyment in activities you used to find pleasurable
  • Having difficulty sleeping, or even sleeping too much
  • Trouble eating, including eating too much, or even too little, which can result in unwanted weight gain or loss
  • A feeling of restlessness, irritability or agitation throughout the day
  • Extreme fatigue and loss of energy
  • Unwanted or exaggerated feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • The inability to concentrate or to even make rational decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide, or thinking quite often about death and dying 

Sadness or Depression? In conclusion

When we look at the significant differences between sadness and depression, the critical factors are how severe the feelings are and how long they have lasted. Are the symptoms you are feeling chronic, constant, pervasive, and disruptive to your life? If so, you may be depressed. It’s really important to stress though that depression is treatable, but you will need to seek some help. For many people, the first steps are talking about how you are feeling with someone you trust and also with a GP or counsellor. 

More information about Depression

I have written quite a few articles about depression, including the following:

Symptoms of Depression, What is depression?, Depression: a medical illness?

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Book a counselling session today!