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With the sudden passing of actor and comedian of Robin Williams, I feel that it time to understand a bit better what Sadness and Depression is about.   This is just a little insight into both problems that affect someone like the late Mr. Williams, but could potentially affect us at one time or another in the course of our lives.

There is a myth that depression and sadness are the same thing. This is not the case. While everyone experiences sadness at some point in their lives, not everyone experiences clinical depression. And someone with bipolar disorder will experience depression as part of the illness, but may also experience sadness without depression.  But how do you know if what you’re feeling is depression or just normal sadness?

Sadness and depression are quite similar in terms of the kind of sentiment that an individual feels at the face of such a situation. However, it must be said that clinical depression is indeed a condition that requires immediate medical attention whereas sadness is just one of the six basic human emotions. Depression is potentially harming whereas sadness does not pose such a threat. A depressed individual may even become suicidal whereas sadness does not usually amount to such drastic action.

Depression is a condition that lasts for a considerably long time whereas sadness is a temporary feeling. Once the cause for sadness goes away, sadness disappears too. Depression on the other hand, does not disappear as easily. Also, sadness is usually evoked by a cause, a reason. But for depression, no such cause or reason is required. A depressed individual will feel depressed with no apparent reasons present. Also, a depressed individual will manifest a lack of interest in life and day to day activities, estrangement from friends and family, hypersomnia and other such symptoms which will hinder the individual’s everyday life and activities to a great extent. Sadness does not display such symptoms as once the cause of sadness goes away, the individual will be right back to normal. However, sadness has the potential of developing in to depression if the situation is not handled well.

What is Sadness?

Sadness is a normal human emotion that we feel when something doesn’t go the way we want. We experience sadness for many reasons but common ones include the loss of a relationship, death, misfortune, unemployment, and so on. Certainly, everyone alive is familiar with sadness. Sadness has also been defined as emotional pain associated with, or characterized by feelings of disadvantage, loss, despair, helplessness and sorrow. An individual experiencing sadness may become quiet or lethargic, and withdraw themselves from others. Crying is often an indication of sadness.

In addition to sadness typically being caused by a life event, sadness is also time-limited. In other words, we don’t feel sad forever. Even in the most severe bouts of sadness, such as in the case when a loved one dies, that sadness ends on its own. We may need to help it along through talking with friends, actively dealing with it, or even getting therapy, but that sadness has a limited lifespan. Even the person who is sad generally recognizes that the feeling will eventually go away.

Even when a person is sad, they tend to be responsive to positive things around them. For example, a person may feel very sad about the loss of a job, but when watching a humorous movie, they are able to forget about their sadness and laugh for a time.

People deal with sadness in different ways, and it is an important emotion because it helps to motivate people to deal with their situation. Some coping mechanisms could include: creating a list, getting support from others, spending time with a pet or engaging in some activity to express sadness.   Some individuals, when feeling sad, may exclude themselves from a social setting, so as to take the time to recover from the feeling.

While being one of the moods people most want to shake, sadness can sometimes be perpetuated by the very coping strategies chosen, such as ruminating, “drowning one’s sorrows”, or permanently isolating oneself.   As alternative ways of coping with sadness, some therapy suggests instead either challenging one’s negative thoughts, or scheduling some positive event as a distraction.   Being attentive to, and patient with, one’s sadness may also be a way for people to learn through solitude; while emotional support to help people stay with their sadness can be further helpful. Such an approach is fueled by the underlying belief that loss (when felt wholeheartedly) can lead to a new sense of aliveness, and to a re-engagement with the outside world.

What is Depression?

Depression is very different. While many people experiencing depression do experience vast amounts of sadness that is not the only defining characteristic of the clinical state. Major depression, part of bipolar disorder, must meet five of the following symptoms: (a) Depressed mood; (b) Anhedonia; (c) Significant appetite or weight change; (d) Sleep disturbance; (e) Psychomotor agitation or retardation; (f) Fatigue or loss of energy; (g) Feelings of worthlessness; (h) Diminished ability to think or indecisiveness; (i) Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide; and (j) A pattern of long-standing interpersonal rejection ideation, suicide attempt, or specific plan for suicide.

Sadness or downswings in mood are normal reactions to life’s struggles, setbacks, and disappointments. Many people use the word “depression” to explain these kinds of feelings, but depression is much more than just sadness.

Depressed mood is not always a psychiatric disorder. It may also be a normal reaction to certain life events, a symptom of some medical conditions, or a side effect of some drugs or medical treatments.

Some people describe depression as “living in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending doom. However, some depressed people don’t feel sad at all—they may feel lifeless, empty, and apathetic, or men in particular may even feel angry, aggressive, and restless.

Whatever the symptoms, depression is different from normal sadness in that it engulfs your day-to-day life, interfering with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and have fun. The feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness are intense and unrelenting, with little.

How to tell the difference between both Sadness and Depression if anything?   (1) Sadness is usually temporary; depression requires assistance, medication and support. It can be chronic in nature; (2) Sadness is often connected to a life change, something negative, but depression can rear its ugly head whenever it wants; (3) Sadness is usually without feelings of suicide; depression can be accompanied by suicidal idealization; (4) Sadness affects a person’s ability to take care of themselves less; depression and the impact on energy, sleep, appetite and general well-being is dramatically altered.

Kathy Kiefer


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