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Am I Depressed or Sad?

Am I Depressed or Sad?

Am I Depressed or Sad?

Published: June 30, 2022

Feeling sad is a completely normal and human experience. We all go through periods of sadness in our lives, whether due to an external event, or simply part of the natural rhythm of being human. Recognizing whether our sadness has tipped over into depression can be complex. We are looking at this topic in detail here to help you get the support you need.

Sadness and Depression: What's the Difference?

Feeling sad is something we can experience fairly regularly in our lives. Usually it comes as a result to an external trigger, life event, or another emotion. Grieving for a loved one or a relationship, the pain of someone we care about, anger, and stress can all cause us to feel sad.

Much like our other emotions, sadness does not persist--it fades with time and support.

Sadness can usually be eased by talking through things with a close friend, gaining distance on a stressful event, or distracting oneself. However, if the low mood does not pass, or it becomes difficult to engage with normal activities, this could indicate something else is going on.

Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is a medical condition where the individual experiences persistent sad feelings over a long period of time which interrupts their daily life. These feelings tend to differ from sadness and they are often accompanied by losing interest in things once enjoyed, physical symptoms, sleep problems, and sometimes, suicidal thoughts.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, get help right away. The national suicide prevention lifeline is a confidential service which connects you with trained counselors in times of distress.

Am I Sad or Depressed?

Although at times, sadness can feel difficult to move through. There is usually a way for individuals to feel relief from the pain, or an ability to feel happiness in other areas of their lives.

However, for individuals experiencing depression, these feelings tend to impact every area of life, making it hard to find enjoyment in anything, even elements of life from which they once took joy.

Depression is not simply extreme sadness; it often coexists with helplessness, hopelessness, and extreme low self esteem. Somebody with depression may feel numb, or as though their life is not worth living.

Sadness can bring other emotions We may feel regretful or ashamed of things which we have done which caused us to feel sad. We may feel anger or resentment about things which have happened. These other emotions are not permanent. We are able to pass through them. After some time of grieving, perhaps crying and reflecting, sadness will dissipate and we can begin to get on with our lives again.

Somebody who is depressed may have omnipresent feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness which cannot be worked through by crying or talking with a friend.

Depression is a very common mental illness. According to recent research by the National Institute of Mental Health, major depressive disorder annually affects around 17.3 million American adults, or approximately 7.1% of the U.S. population age 18 and older.

Recognizing the severity of depression is crucial; it is an acute condition in which many individuals living with depression experience suicidal ideation, self-harm, or suicide attempts.

Understanding Your Symptoms

Like any mental health condition, symptoms of depression vary and are unique to the individual. Some people with depression may fluctuate, while others will experience more constant symptoms.

Common Physical Symptoms
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep problems
    • Early morning awakening
    • Trouble staying asleep
    • Sleeping for long periods of time
  • Decreased sexual function
  • Digestion and bowel issues
  • Headaches
  • Tightness in chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Slowed speech
Common Psychological Symptoms
  • Feelings of sadness and low mood
  • Feeling frustrated
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Low concentration abilities
  • Ruminating on negative topics
  • Preoccupation with death and suicide

It is important to note that it is possible to have some of these symptoms without experiencing depression. Some people have problems with their sleep or bowels for other health reasons, and sometimes you will go through periods of life where decision-making is more difficult. However, if you are experiencing a number of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, it's important that you seek professional medical advice.

The term 'severe depression' is often used in diagnosis. This is not a separate condition, but rather it is an extension of major depressive disorder. Generally, we talk about severe depression when individuals are going through a particularly difficult period of depression, or they are experiencing an increase in symptoms.

Official Diagnosis

Depression is a complex mental health condition and diagnosing it can be difficult.

To help with diagnose, a criteria has been devised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Individuals must experience five or more of the following symptoms in a two-week period in order to diagnose clinical depression. At least one symptom should be either of the first two listed.

  1. Depressed mood for the majority of the day, nearly every day.
  2. Loss of interest or joy in, most or all daily activities for the majority of the day, nearly every day.
  3. Significant weight loss or weight gain, or a daily decrease or increase in appetite.
  4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings). 
  5. Severely decreased energy and fatigue nearly every day. 
  6. Significant feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness, nearly every day.
  7. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions, nearly every day. 
  8. Intrusive thoughts of death, ruminating on suicide, suicidal ideation, or attempts.

These symptoms must cause the individual significant distress or negatively impact their relationships, job, and other areas of functioning.

Before a diagnosis of clinical depression is made, it is important to rule out other medical or mental health conditions which could be causing these symptoms.

Causes of Depression

It is common for individuals with depression to question, 'why me?'. The truth is, there is often a combination of factors leading to every case of depression. The nature of this condition can lead individuals to feel as though they don't have a real 'reason' to feel depressed, and they are not worthy of professional help. This is unfortunately detrimental to their overall well-being. Nobody should have to live with the pain of depression and everybody deserves compassionate and caring support.

For some individuals, understanding the cause of their depression is important to their recovery. Some factors which could contribute to a diagnosis include the following:

Life Events

Depression is often triggered by a traumatic or difficult life experience.

This could include:

  • The loss of a relationship
  • Unemployment or losing a job
  • Grief for a person, place, or health
  • Major changes, such as having a child or starting a new job
  • Experiencing physical or sexual abuse
  • Being oppressed or bullied

It's important to recognise that sometimes these things can happen in our lives and it does not result in us developing depression. Often we have enough support around us to get through these difficult situations without it impacting our mental health in the long term.

Childhood Experience

Experiencing difficulties or trauma in childhood increases the likelihood of developing depression as an adult. Childhood trauma includes:

  • Neglect
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Grief
  • Severe mental health issues of family members
  • Addiction
  • Traumatic events such as war or extreme violence

It is thought that experiencing a number of minor traumas - but nonetheless difficult - can have a bigger impact on your predisposition to depression than experiencing one major traumatic event.

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is common for individuals with other mental health conditions to experience depression as well.

This is often due to the stress or difficulty of managing the symptoms of the underlying mental health issue.

Common occurring disorders include:

  • Eating Disorders
    • Studies found 33-50% of anorexia patients to have a co-existing disorder such as depression.
  • Anxiety
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder

Unfortunately, the existence of conditions tends to increase the severity of symptoms in both disorders.

Substance Abuse

Abusing both alcohol and recreational drugs can cause depression. This is true for individuals with fully-fledged substance abuse, and those who drink or take drugs intermittently. Some drugs, including alcohol, are depressants that can cause us to feel extremely low and empty after use. This can trigger an episode of depression.

Research found that over 20% of individuals in the United States living with a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety are also living with a substance use disorder.

Likewise, over 20% of individuals living with a substance use disorder in the United States are also experiencing a mood disorder such as depression.


There has been a lot of research into the genetics of depression, but so far there has been no specific gene identified. However, we do know that if you have a family history of depression, you are more likely to develop a condition yourself.

This could be biological, but it could also be related to learned behaviors and coping mechanisms. Additionally, the way we see our parents or caregivers attach and socialize when we are children can impact our mental health as adults.

Physical Health Impacts

In recent years there has been a big focus on researching the physical health impacts of depression. This is in part to do with the severe impacts depression has on workforces: it is one of the most common mental illnesses in the work place and a leading cause of sick leave.

Research by the National Institute of Health found that adults living with a depressive disorder, or symptoms of depression, are at a 64% increased risk of developing coronary artery disease.

Research in 2002 by the National Institute of Mental Health found that between 10 and 27% of post-stroke patients experience depression and one in three individuals who experienced a heart attack go on to develop depression.

Caring for your Mental Health

If you are experiencing severe symptoms of depression, undertaking every day duties and self care can be challenging. Focussing on taking care of your physical health can ease your symptoms.

  • Aim for quality sleep
    • Sleep problems are common for individuals with depression. Try to prioritize adequate sleep, and speak to a specialist for advice on sleep health.
  • Eat a balanced diet
    • Eating regular, balanced meals maintains your blood sugar levels and keeps your hormones stable. This can greatly improve your symptoms.
  • Get some fresh air and exercise
    • Gentle, mindful activities such as yoga, swimming, or walking boost your endorphins resulting in increased mood. Outside in the fresh air is the best place to exercise for your mental health.

Getting Help for Clinical Depression

At GIA Miami, we offer evidence-based, expert-led mental health treatment at the cutting edge of medical science. We stay up-to-date with the most recent research, helping our clients reach their recovery goals.

We specialize in TMS therapy, a safe and effective treatment for individuals living with depression. This is one form of a number of brain stimulation therapies which are especially useful for individuals who do not respond to medicated depression treatment and are looking for an alternative treatment solution.

We treat depression in a holistic manner, using a combination of therapies to provide a full and encompassing recovery process for all our clients.

Our treatment options include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical-behavioral therapy
  • TMS therapy
  • Talk therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Couples therapy

We understand that recovery is challenging, but it doesn't have to be uncomfortable. Our downtown Miami center offers a range of treatment facilities enabling you to recover in comfort and safety.

Contact Us Today

At GIA Miami, we know that depression is a debilitating condition. We offer the most advanced and up-to-date, evidence-based treatment approaches tailored to your specific needs and recovery goals. Our treatment facilities provide a safe, comfortable environment to recover fully recover and start living your best life.

If you are living with depression, or experiencing depression symptoms, get in touch with us today for a free consultation. Don't let mental illness take over your life. Let us guide you to a happier, healthier life.

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