Depression; how to Tell the Difference from Sadness


Former desparate mom
How to Tell Sadness from Depression

By Dave Turo-Shields, ACSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

You have and will experience sadness. It might be the loss of a job, pet or a loved one. Yes, even a loved one. The trouble is, particularly here in the United States, we have a quick-fix for everything... why not sadness too?

Our quick-fix for sadness is that it's simply not allowed. Healthy purging of sad feelings is great for you physically and wonderful for your mental health. When you stuff the expression of healthy sadness it may lead to health problems, interpersonal issues and depression.

So, the first lesson is FEEL your sadness over whatever issue is at hand. It doesn't make you weak or less a man or woman to do so. Yes, I have to say "woman" today too, because women have also begun to place the same negative meaning on expressing feelings of sadness; so they hold back too.

There are Five Basic Stages you will go through with a significant change or loss in your life. They are:

1. Shock/Denial
2. Anger
3. Asking "What if..." questions or making "If only" statements.
4. Sadness
5. Acceptance

Please keep in mind several points about the five statements made above. First, each one is NORMAL! You may cycle through the steps several times and may not do so in the order listed above.

The only time these steps become a problem is when you become stuck at a particular step. Here's an example.

I met a woman about a year ago. She'd been married over 25 years. She and her husband were planning on traveling after he retired. He died within a year of retirement from cancer. She came to see me three years after his death.

She had become stuck at step 3 above. She questioned, over and over again, whether she had done everything she could for him and all their family during those last days before his death. After about a year of ruminating minute-by-minute, she became quite seriously depressed. Then later, she was referred to me by her physician.

We worked through her questions from step 3. She then went through a normal period of being angry over the loss of her husband and how that had changed her life and retirement plans. She felt appropriately sad about the loss of her best friend.

She's not terribly happy about working, but she's been working full-time now for about six months. She is hoping to begin dating. She's insecure about it. "It's been so long since I've dated!" She quips. But, she is on her way to a new life and her level of acceptance is growing each day.

Other times depression may set in from a traumatic event, or a series of negative life events that overlap and overwhelm your usual ability to cope. If this is you, you are often bewildered as to why you can't simply shake out of it as you normally would. Or if it was a trauma event, you will often find that simple security issues (e.g., walking out into a dark parking lot at night after shopping) will trigger panic and later deep depression. Sudden trauma threatens your sense of general safety in the world at large.

If you are wondering if you have Major Depression here are some guidelines to help you to the correct answer. For the best possible solution please seek professional evaluation. I offer professional consultation for individuals through email, making this step easy and convenient.

1. Depressed mood nearly every day.
2. Diminished interest in regular activities.
3. Significant weight loss or weight gain.
4. Sleeping difficulties.
5. A feeling of being "slowed down."
6. Fatigue and energy loss nearly every day.
7. Feeling worthless or excessive and inappropriate guilt.
8. Difficulty in staying on task or making decisions.
9. Frequent thoughts of death, including but not limited to suicidal thoughts.

Having a few of these symptoms does not necessarily qualify your for the diagnosis of Major Depression. You need to have at least five symptoms consistently over a two-week period of time or longer.

If you decide you have Major Depression please confirm this with a depression screen which you may reach by clicking here . Additionally, please consult your family doctor and a trained professional who specializes in depressive disorders. A family doctor can assist in ruling out a possible medical condition and a therapist knows how to assist you in digging yourself out of that deep depression rut.


Active Member

Great article...we have to give ourselves permission it seems to feel these things instead of panicking and reacting to them as "not normal" and stuffing them.



scent of cedar

New Member
I liked it too, Fran. Even when we realize why we might be feeling badly, it helps to know there are stages and that, even though we may not feel like it, we are progressing as we should.




Well-Known Member
Staff member
Wow, that's a great article. I think too many rush to anti-depressants for situations that are not really clinical depression.

I can speak from experience. At the height of our problems with our difficult child, I was crying during a therapy session (difficult child had run off for a week when she was almost 18). The therapist suggested I start taking a low dose anti-depressant.

I asked her why in the world she thought I needed to be medicated. I had absolutely no symptoms of clinical depression. I was crying and upset due to a situation that should upset me. Yes, we had problems with difficult child but it did not carry over into every part of my life.

I was functioning well at my job and was not upset all of the time. My life was normal with both highs and lows.

The therapist’s response was that it would be "easier" to handle the problems with difficult child.

I told her no thank you.

I know that there are people who truly depressed and need medication. I worry, though, that we as a society have turned too quickly to medication as a solution to all of our problems.



New Member
Thanks Fran, this is important enough for all of us to read.
Thanks for sharing.
I think this should be put in the archives.

Joy xoxoxoxo


Former desparate mom
Kathy, I still chuckle about visiting the GP when difficult child was first hospitalized. She said, "you are depressed"
I said, " of course, I'm depressed! My son is in a locked unit! If I wasn't depressed, you would wonder what was wrong with me"

Kathy I'm not too worried about society looking for a quick answer. medications aren't an answer but a tool. There are limitations depending on the origin. We can only work on ourselves which in turns becomes society. If you have managed without medication, that's terrific.You can feel good that you came through it with all your feathers still intact. It doesn't put us in a position to judge what others choose to do. There is enough pain in our lives that judgment from those who chose a different path is almost intolerable. We hope for understanding from those who have been there done that as opposed to expectations of doing it the way we did.

I'd rather error on the side of compassion and tolerance.

There are certainly many depressions that can't improve without medication. No one should suffer if there is help available.
I agree that people forget that sadness is a normal emotion. It is important to allow a full range of emotions. If any emotion becomes too intense or longstanding, it can be a problem.


Well-Known Member
Staff member

I'm sorry if I sounded intolerant, I certainly didn't mean to be. As I said in my post, I know there are people who are clinically depressed and need medications.

I was just speaking from personal experience. They were pushed on me even though I wasn't depressed. We also had the experience of a therapist (different one) push me to put difficult child on Ritalin even though she didn't have any signs of ADHD. It did a world of good for him and he was convinced everyone was ADHD like him.

The psychiatrist we saw later diagnosed her as clinically depressed and put her on anti-depressants. He said he didn't see any signs of ADHD in her.

Again, these were just personal experiences. I didn't mean to ruffle any feathers.



Former desparate mom
No ruffled feathers, Kathy.Honestly.
I had the same experience with a professional seeing normal despair as being something more than it was.

On the other hand, I have seen people refuse to get help because they didn't want to admit that they couldn't pull themselves up on their own. They suffered needlessly in the grey, heavy fog of depression trying desparately to fix themselves. It's heartbreaking.


Former desparate mom
Nomad, I wouldn't think twice to taking antidepressants if I needed it. I have taken them in the past. I'm not too arrogant to think I am not susceptible. It can and does hit people regardless of personal fortitude. Whether it is situational or chronic is of no matter.If you are unable to manage then using the tools available seems like common sense.
I hope you can encourage your friend to get either counseling, or support or a physical.