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Is It Still Sadness or Already Depression?

“I think I am depressed” – these are the words that usually describe a temporary bad mood, lack of motivation or sadness. As a social effect many of us misuse the term “depression” and often without a real awareness of what it actually is, what its symptoms are and what difficulties the patients have to face. How to distinguish temporary sadness and real depression? Where is the line between bad mood and illness? 

Our own ideas

Everyone has a certain idea about the depression and its course, even when none of relatives and friends suffered from it. We increasingly rely on books and films presented in popular culture and start to recall its characteristic features or behaviours. Most of us have seen and remember movies like e.g. American Beauty, World’s Greatest Dad or Girl, Interrupted. The characters are presented quite differently, and also the depression itself may have various forms – sometimes extremely different. For example, it causes indifference, paralysing helplessness or a feeling of absolute weakness. It also drains all vital forces and confines patients to their beds for weeks or even months. At the same time, it can be also manifested in a completely differently way: with arousal, excessive irritation and aggression. Thus, it should be understood that depression above all is an evident and striking change of attitude towards the environment and the world. However, there is also a number of common symptoms: loss of interest in one’s usual affairs and problems in dealing with everyday duties or routine. The depression deprives of the ability to feel pleasure and causes a sense of alienation and the lack of belonging to one’s own life while building a barrier towards other people. No matter how hard would a patient try to change it, the sense of separation would only increase.

The depression means also:

  • abnormal sadness; for the healthy it may often seem unjustified and inadequate to patient’s behaviour;
  • energy deficit and psychomotor slowing down (lack of motivation, willingness, slower thinking and acting);
  • inability to be happy and feel joy (anhedonia);
  • depressive thoughts and experiences – sense of guilt, inferiority, sinfulness and suicidal thoughts;
  • constant anxiety (related to death, illness, sense of loss), often associated with hypochondria;
  • sleep problems – insomnia or excessive drowsiness, feeling of insufficient sleep, lack of strength.

A completely different quality 

Depression changes and creates new reaction schemes. Due to that, even minor failures that would not affect us before the disease, now can cause a flood of dark thoughts and difficult emotions. When speaking of gloomy mood or sadness in relation to depression, it is worth to realise the basic difference in their course and feeling. First of all, pay attention to the duration of symptoms – the depression is usually associated with months, sometimes even years, while the sadness lasts from a day up to a week. In addition, in case of depression, there is a permanent bad mood incomparable to anything experienced previously. People who struggle with a temporary sense of sadness or lack of motivation can be relatively easily cheered up, comforted and can overcome this condition. The sadness is pretty variable, mood is in fact only slightly decreased, reactive to external factors, and the removal of its causes results in quick recovery. In depression, however, there are no preceding factors, and the reaction is disproportionate to the scale of potential events. In the case of sadness, it is easy to describe the causes of negative thoughts, e.g. a situation or conversation that affected our emotions. In depression there is no direct “culprit”, and we quickly loose a critical look at our thoughts and experiences. Depressed people believe in their sad, unhappy world and become absorbed by it. The sadness, in turn, is accompanied with a certain distance and subconscious sense that the condition is only temporary. 

It also means:

  • short duration of bad mood symptoms, usually counted in days or maximum weeks;
  • lack of suicidal thoughts or rare not too serious and temporary ones;
  • clear indication of a situation or person being the cause;
  • self-criticism of our thoughts and attitude to our condition – we subconsciously know that nothing bad is threatening us and that the bad mood will finally pass. 

Feeling sad does not automatically mean that you suffer from depression but if the low mood lasts longer than a week, it is advisable to meet a specialist and just talk. Remember that looking for help is a sign of maturity and not weakness!