Sadness vs. Depression

Dr Perpetua Neo


Depression heartbreak

If you’re feeling low, then you’re having the ‘common cold’ of mental health. At any one time, 15-20% of adults suffer from severe depression. But why are we so adept with dealing with colds and flus, but clueless and even ashamed when it comes to depression?

What depression looks like...

Depression is different from sadness. When you’re sad, you’re feeling. When you’re depressed, it’s difficult to feel. Things that you used to enjoy don’t have the same effect anymore. Everything takes a ton of energy to do. It’s hard to fall asleep. And sometimes, no matter how much you sleep, you’re still tired. It’s difficult to focus or make decisions, and you worry you’re losing your memory. It’s hard to go about your daily life, sometimes you think of ending your life.

As social animals, feeling lonely in your experiences can make depression worse. But because of the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, it becomes easier to withdraw without understanding what depression is, and that you’re not alone.

Why does depression happen?

In our evolutionary history, feeling depressed stops us from chasing unattainable goals, and helps us signal subordination and defeat. This way, we can withdraw our energy from what we’re doing to recharge ourselves. Sometimes, we become so used to withdrawing ourselves from everything and everyone, we’re not doing much, and the sense of helplessness is overwhelming. We think that bad things will happen and believe there’s nothing we can do about it. And for anything good that happens, we think it’s merely a stroke of good luck that won’t last. The way we see the world has changed, and so the way we interact with the world is no longer the same.

Treating depression - sad man

Treating depression

There is no magic pill for depression. Still, antidepressants like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed, to increase serotonin levels. Side effects can range from a month of insomnia, nausea and ‘feeling foggy’, to longer-term problems like decreased sex drive and weight gain.

Ultimately, your risk of relapse becomes higher after each round of depression. This means that treating the cause, rather than symptoms, is vital.

Treating depression - talking therapies, client with therapistTo this end, talking therapies like CBT and behavioural therapy can help unearth what drives your depression, and take action to tackle these. Mindfulness, specifically Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, was developed specifically for people suffering from repeated bouts of depression.

Published by Hove StressBusters
August 2015

Further information:
Mental Health Foundation