The Important Difference Between Depression and Sadness

There is this unfortunate misunderstanding that depression is just really deep sadness.

As someone who has often experienced depression and knows many who have, this is very frustrating. Everyone will be sad at some point in their lives, but not everyone will be depressed. Sadness is your favorite sweater being ruined or losing something or someone important to you; depression, on the other hand, is a mental illness.

Depression is not simply sadness. While it often feels like sadness, it goes much further because it’s a persistent sadness that seeps into your life where it doesn’t belong. Depression as a mental illness, and is not always caused by external sources.

It’s so vital to recognize this difference because treating depression is not as simple as being cheered up after a bad breakup. The problem, however, is that people treat it like it is — that getting off the couch or watching a funny movie will make depression go away. The reality is that it doesn’t, and while it’s great people are trying to help, it really does the opposite. It puts an unrealistic expectation on someone that they have a choice and just isn’t trying hard enough.

When I hear someone tell me to cheer up when I’m depressed, I really try and when I can’t I feel like I’ve failed them. This isn’t fair to me and it isn’t fair to them, because of this basic misunderstanding of depression and how it can completely take over someone’s life. Sadness is like thinking the world is ending but clicking on the news and see that it isn’t. Depression is thinking the world is ending and not being able to even pick up the remote, and living in that state of turmoil.

Obviously being sad is not enjoyable for anyone, it’s a completely valid emotion that should be respected. However, depression is a completely different and needs to be recognized as such. Please understand when you know someone who is depressed and feel the need to tell them to cheer up, that they’re just sad. Stop yourself. Stop and remember that depression is a mental illness and can’t be cured by a pint of ice cream.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via BalazsKovacs

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Depression

black dog and white dog play fighting on beach

How the White Dog Is Helping Me to Keep the Black Dog at Bay

I struggle with anxiety and depression, and these two contradictory mental illnesses make each day a fight to do anything, let alone look after myself. I think possibly the hardest part of having depression and anxiety is the lack of concern about yourself. I don’t do what is good for me, because I have no reason to. Popular lore [...]
couple watching sunset by small body of water with woman's head resting on man's shoulder

What I Would Have Said to My Date Who Said He Needed to Find Himself

Are we not all lost? Are we not we all in this journey called life, each of us finding our way? And wouldn’t it be better to find ourselves together? I am lost too. I am more lost than I seem to be, and with you, I feel a little more found, but I have come to the conclusion that I would [...]

How Olivia Benson from Law and Order: SVU Has Helped My Recovery

There’s a quote I held onto from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, said by Mariska Hargitay’s character Olivia Benson, that has helped me overcome many battles past and present. After going through a horrific traumatic event herself and then returning to work, she said to a victim: “You know, what I’ve seen is that people who [...]
20 Things That Make People With Depression Feel Happiness, If Only for a Moment

20 Things That Make People With Depression Feel Happiness, If Only for a Moment

When you live with depression, sometimes it can feel like the word “happy” no longer exists in your world. On days when rumination and exhaustion threaten to overcome you, sometimes happiness can feel like a distant memory. While this is a very real part of depression for many, it’s important to remember having depression doesn’t mean [...]