How to tell the difference between feeling sad and being depressed

Catriona Harvey-Jenner
·3-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Depression is one of the most commonly experienced mental illnesses, with statistics indicating that around 3 in every 100 people suffer from it in the UK. But despite the frequency with which it occurs, it can be difficult for some people to tell whether they're actually suffering from a bout of depression, or if they're experiencing a phase of sadness.

Over the past year, with lives having been turned upside down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health issues have spiked. Research carried out by mental health charity Mind revealed that more than half of adults said that their mental health had become worse during lockdown restrictions. And it's not surprising; isolation, fear, and stress surrounding the uncertainty is always going to take its toll.

But at what point do you differentiate between feeling low, and having a mental health issue that needs addressing? Sadness is an emotion that must not be dismissed, but it is not the same as being depressed. We asked Dr Mark Winwood, director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, to explain exactly how to tell between the two. With this information, you can determine whether what you're experiencing is something you should seek support from your GP for.

"Depression is one of the commonly occurring mental health problems, characterised by a constant feeling of sadness, and is very different from temporarily feeling low," Dr Winwood told Cosmopolitan.

"People living with depression often experience intense feelings of guilt, low self-esteem and poor energy and concentration, all of which can have a severe impact on day-to-day life. While many of those who experience depression believe they are alone in their symptoms, in reality this is not the case."

Photo credit: noukkasigne - Getty Images
Photo credit: noukkasigne - Getty Images

When you feel sad, it can give you a bleak overall outlook on many areas of your life, however if you're depressed, you will experience a number of the symptoms listed below. But, as Dr Winwood points out: "Everyone that lives with depression experiences a different combination of symptoms".

The symptoms can be broken down into three categories - thoughts and feelings, physical symptoms, and behaviours:

Thoughts and feelings

  • Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem

  • Sudden forgetfulness, concentration issues and/or indecisiveness

  • Negative thinking

  • View of life as pointless

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Constant sense of guilt

  • Sense of worthlessness

  • Helplessness

  • Low sex drive

  • Easily agitated and/or irritated

  • Numbness

  • Unable to relate with others / feeling misunderstood

  • Consistently feel low

  • Isolation

  • Numb or empty

  • No interest in usual hobbies

Behaviour

  • Detachment from others

  • Difficulty talking to people

  • Crying regularly

  • Avoiding usually enjoyable activities or social events

  • Self-harm

  • Sleeping or eating much more or less than usual

  • Increasing alcohol, tobacco or drug intake

Physical symptoms

  • Sudden increase or loss of appetite

  • Loss of sex drive and lack of interest in sex

  • Lack of energy

  • Increased feeling of aches and pains

  • Constipation

  • Disturbed sleep patterns

  • Menstrual cycle changes in women

You don't have to experience all of these symptoms to classify yourself as depressed. In fact, the reality is far from it.

"If you feel like you're experiencing four or more of these symptoms daily for more than two weeks, it is likely you are living with depressed mood and I would recommend you visit your GP to discuss the symptoms further," advised the doctor.

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