While it may seem that everyone throws around “The D Word” from time to time, specific depressive disorders affect less than 10% of Americans.
However, the combination of anxiety, trauma, and illnesses that can contribute to depression make depression much more common.
If symptoms are mild, you may want to understand whether you’re simply feeling sad or experiencing depression.
While you might think of sadness as temporary and depression as persistent, it can be hard to differentiate the two in the moment.
Your experience could feel like it may pass, but you could be experiencing the early feelings of a mild depressive bout. Alternately, you could be in the throes of one of the worst dark clouds you’ve experienced which you might not realize is connected to an event in your life.
If you’re wondering whether you’re feeling sad or experiencing clinical symptoms of depression, you’re not alone. Ask yourself these 5 questions to shed a little light on your feelings.
1. If You’re Feeling Sad, Are Your Favorite Things Enjoyable?
Everyone has a handful of things that really make life worth living. Whether it’s traveling abroad, spending the day at your favorite bookshop, or just that chai latte you like, there are things that can take us out of any funk.
If you’re feeling sad, these are the things that can shake us out of our feelings or reassure us that we’ll move beyond the hurdle in front of us. Our brain might resist the good feelings, but in the end, positivity will prevail.
In the experience of depression, there’s an inability to enjoy the things that once were pleasurable.
This reaction is called an “anhedonic” reaction, as in the inverse of the hedonism we feel when on a beach with the perfect drink in hand. Depression inhibits those feelings of pleasure that could cut through the fog of our sad feelings.
When you can’t seem to enjoy the things that “should” make you happy, you could be feeling depressed.
2. Are Your Emotions Tied To One Specific Thing?
During moments of feeling sad, it’s hard to tell where that sadness comes from. You could wake up in the morning, stare at the clock knowing it’s time to get up, and just not be able to do it.
What makes this a symptom of sadness as opposed to depression is its connection to something specific.
If you’ve experienced a major change in your life, like a breakup, job loss, death of a loved one, or even a move to a new city, you could be experiencing sadness.
While this disconnection from something that you once identified closely with can feel traumatic, it may pass. In moments of sadness, we can usually say “I guess it started when…”
This is a tricky concept, however.
If we have deep trauma tied to loss that can trigger depression, that event might have just reopened that issue for you. Your depression may have started off in the way sadness does, but if it opens you up to a deeper negativity, that sadness may have paved the way for depression.
If you’ve had issues with depression in the past, you need to be especially aware when traumatic events happen or appear to be on the horizon. If you know that a loved one is going to pass soon and have dealt with depression due to loss, contact a trusted therapist in advance.
While depression can hit for “no reason at all”, the conditions of a sad event can make it easier for depression to take over your life.
3. Are You Sleeping And Eating Normally?
When you’re unhappy, it can be hard to follow your normal rules. Sometimes a little exercise and fresh air can help make things better and get you back on track.
If being more active doesn’t tire you out for a good night’s sleep and build up a little hunger, you might be experiencing depression. One of the major features of depression is insomnia and the inability to fix it with standard tactics.
For some people, food might seem “pointless” in the haze of sadness that comes with depression. You might feel like it’s not worthwhile to be healthy or in some cases to eat at all.
If you can’t seem to resolve your appetite or sleep schedule, contact a counselor who can help you find tactics to help combat your brain’s attempts to undermine you.
4. Does Your Mood Fluctuate?
When you’re feeling sad, it might seem like your mood fades in and out, like background music that takes over a movie scene. When there’s space for you to let go of your sadness and enjoy things, you’re likely not experiencing severe depression.
For people who experience even the most moderate symptoms of depression, it’s less like background music and more like a refrigerator hum.
Even in the quietest of times, it’s still there. And if you focus on it, it can be deeply upsetting or frustrating.
With the most severe forms of depression, any task can seem punishingly difficult. You can get upset talking to the person you’re ordering coffee from, irritated with the people on the train, and everyone at work can seem unbearable.
When the common denominator between unrelated people and events is your frustration, sadness, anxiety, or anger, talk to someone about dealing with depression.
5. Are You Self-Sabotaging?
While everyone has moments where they definitely screwed up or their performance at school or work stinks, they are often few and far between.
If these mistakes or missteps arise when you’re feeling sad, you can usually bet that you can avoid those mistakes the second time around.
During a bout of depression, your thoughts can become habitual or cyclical. You might feel like you failed, and you failed because you’re incapable, and you will never get any better. You might punish yourself with your negative thoughts.
If you blame yourself for things that are out of your control or you’re relentlessly critical of yourself, you may be experiencing depression. If you have a firm belief that it’s some critical flaw that you’re hardwired with that is keeping you from success, talk to someone about dealing with depression.
In all likelihood, your talent and skills have gotten you this far, but now depression has taken the wheel. Before it steers you into a ditch, set yourself up for success by contacting a counselor to help with depression.
There’s Nothing Abnormal About Feeling Sad or Experiencing Depression
There are millions of people who are feeling sad and millions more also experiencing depression. Thankfully there are many trained experts who know how to help us get back on track.
If you’ve thought about self-harm or violence, speak to a professional as soon as possible. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) 24/7. The Crisis Text Line is a way to get help anonymously through text.
There is always someone there to listen to you no matter what you’re going through. Cut through the fog and seek help today.