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Are You Depressed or Just Sad?

My mother suffered from the twin horrors of depression and chronic OCD. Both went undiagnosed for years, mainly because of the stigma that was placed on the ‘condition’ of depression which caused her to not seek help. She suffered needlessly.

Her depression was my fear factor; I feared becoming just like her. Times of stress and anxiety in my life brought that fear to the surface. It used to make me feel as if I was going to suffer as my mother had. But in my mother’s later years, when she was finally treated by a doctor, I found that my fear was unfounded.


“You’re dealing with stress in a depressing situation; your mom is in the hospital,” her consulting doctor, a psychiatrist, said to me when I told him of my fears. “Once you figure out all the details about her care and the situation is dealt with, you will be fine.”

He was right. When I dealt with the stress and made healthy decisions about  the enormous problems facing me at that time, I was fine.

The Difference Between Depression and Sadness

Therapists say that it’s normal to experience feelings of sadness and anxiety from time to time. These feelings are often healthy and, these experts say, can teach us life lessons. What’s not normal, however, is to be so sad that you can’t seem to pull yourself out of your funk. Unless you have professional training, it can be difficult to determine if you are merely sad or experiencing clinical depression. There’s a difference between the two. Here is what ‘simply sad’ looks like:

•You put on a happy face to hide true feelings.

•Your  judgment or assessment of a situation seems ‘off’

• Your self-esteem seems to plummet for a while

•You have trouble concentrating

•Your food habits can change to ravenous eating or lack of appetite

•You experience high stress or anxiety

•You are tired, run down and have difficulty falling asleep.

Now you know what the signs of sad look like but, guess what? Save for one symptom, the above signs are exactly like the same ones for clinical depression!  The one major symptom missing in the ‘sad’ list is a major one in the depression list: You can’t remember the last time you were happy. That one symptom is crucial. Not remembering having been happy is a warning sign for any person consumed by sadness.

A major depressive episode is defined as experiencing a period of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure for two weeks or longer and not remembering any happiness even though there may have been some good and pleasant experiences during that time.

Depression doesn’t discriminate by age. It strikes all groups from children, to teens, to young adults, and the elderly. Telling a truly depressed person to ‘just get over it’ does no good and can make him or her actually feel powerless over his or her feelings.

You need to understand that depression is not normal grief. Feeling very upset and in mourning after a loss is completely appropriate. It’s healthy and perfectly normal to feel sad after certain life-impacting events; a divorce, losing someone or a beloved pet close to you, moving away from friends, losing your job, or ending a friendship, etc. As unpleasant as it is, you know in the back of your mind that you will come out of it in good time.

One huge difference between sadness and depression is that a person experiencing the sadness can reasonably tell you what it is that is causing their unhappiness. They don’t like being unhappy. A person suffering from depression may not necessarily be able to do so. When someone is sad, he or she tends to know that things will get better over time. A person going through depression does not see an end to his or her problem and think things will get worse.

There is a plethora of help for anyone suffering from depression. No one needs to suffer and no one, or their families, should delay getting help due to their erroneous fear of any stigma. If you or someone you know ‘feels sad’ without release, seek the help of a medical professional who can make the distinction between just sad or real depression and give you the help you need.

Life can be beautiful and you deserve to live it well.

© copyright 2014 Kristen Houghton all rights reserved

Read Kristen’s new thriller FOR I HAVE SINNED A Cate Harlow Private Investigation available now at Amazon

midlife boulevard, columnist, midlife women, middle-age, midlife crisis

Kristen Houghton

Kristen Houghton is an author, blogger on the Huffington Post, and contributor to Kalon Women.

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Suzanne Fluhr

Sunday 24th of August 2014

I think you've very well explained the term "anhedonia" which is so present in major depression.

Vicky Harinski

Friday 22nd of August 2014

I can relate on so any level and diagnosed with depression and panic anxiety. Thank you for sharing


Wednesday 20th of August 2014

Thanks for this informative essay! I'm certain this will benefit a lot of the readers and hopefully shedding light on this issue will also lessen the stigma associated with depression.

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