What is the difference between sadness and depression?

Posted 11/7/19

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

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What is the difference between sadness and depression?

Posted

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

Dear Dr. Ted:

I have been learning about grief due to some losses in my life. I saw that you mentioned that one of the phases is listed as depression. What is the difference between sadness and depression?

Thanks, Carlitos

Dear Carlitos:

It is great to see you are exploring the phases of grief as you experience healing from your loss. Being conscious and aware of your healing process actually help allow you to move from the past and be more conscious of the present situation.

Within the grief process, we often talk about the "five stages of grief," which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When the word depression is used in reference to the grief process, it is usually related to situational depression which may be different than the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5).

There are specific symptoms such as: diminished interest/pleasure or depressed mood. Other symptoms may be irritability, loss of pleasure in activities, appetite and/or disturbance, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, lack of concentration and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide ideation with or without a plan.

At least five of these symptoms must be present for at least a two-week period to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder and have a negative impact on your regular mood state. The DSM-5 also states that it is important to distinguish the difference between natural sadness and depression during bereavement.

Loss can cause great sadness and suffering which means you may or may not fit the criteria for depression. Including grief/bereavement in a major change from past DSM criteria. Bereavement related depression often occurs within persons who have less internal and external resourcing and are susceptible to depressive tendencies before the loss.

On the other hand, sadness is an emotion all humans feel at certain times in their life. It is a natural reaction due to an event that causes emotional disruption. Sadness fades over time - at the beginning of a loss it may encompass your entire day and you may feel "captured" by sadness. Over time, you may find seconds, moments, days in which sadness does not hijack your entire attention, and the level of intensity incrementally decreases as well.

In a natural and common grief process you can look at the intensity, frequency and duration of sadness. In continuing on a healing process, more and more of your emotions are processed, and this allows time to move toward positive types of energy. You are in the healing process and reestablishing an emotional baseline that gives emotional structure and quality within your life.

If you find you are staying in a place of hopelessness, it would be beneficial for you to bravely reach out and find supports that help give some handholds as you rebuild your present foundation. Supports that serve you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually may come in many forms such as medical and mental health professionals, spiritual leaders, body therapists and others that help break isolation and allow you to feel your feelings and at the same time, allow them to be navigable.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat GWR@newmex.com

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