A lot of times, the word “Depression” is overused, making it insignificant in the eyes of others. We tend to exaggerate our situation and tell everyone around us, who can listen “I am so depressed, I can die right now”. Followed by this statement, the person cries out and then goes about their normal lives as if nothing serious ever really happened. So how do we identify if the person is really depressed, or is just sad?
Depression is a recognized clinical condition. Sadness, on the other hand, is an emotional response to an external situation. Sadness is just one of the symptoms of depression. When someone dies, we feel sad and grief. The grieving process takes its natural course through time. When someone gets divorced or breaks up, they feel sad, guilty as well as anxious. When someone attacks your self-esteem, you may feel hurt and sad. There are many reasons to feel sad in this world. Then what exactly is depression and how do we differentiate it from mere sadness?
1. Depression is not just sadness
As mentioned earlier, sadness is just a symptom of depression. There are other symptoms of depression, like
a. Loss of interest in activities: A depressed person loses interest in almost all activities, almost every day. Even the activities that they used to enjoy earlier. When they wake up in the morning, they don’t sit and plan and look forward to the day. Beginning the day and going through the day, is an effort. Any activity seems like a task that they have to complete.
b. Disturbance in sleep patterns and eating habits: A depressed person either sleeps too much or too less. They also experience a change in their appetite, where they eat too little or too much depending on their appetite. Sleep and food sometimes, become secondary in their life. In some cases, too much food and too much sleep, act as an escape and a coping mechanism for them.
c. Excessive feelings of worthlessness and/or guilt: In the examples of sadness mentioned earlier, when someone attacks your self-esteem, you may just feel hurt and sad. However, a depressed person will feel absolutely worthless and their self-confidence just shatters. They see themselves as inferior and compare themselves to others a little too much.
We all experience guilt. However, a depressed person will think of all the wrong things they have done in life and feel excessively guilty about it. They tend to blame themselves for even the minutest of wrong thoughts. They tend to feel “I am a bad person” because they have thought something bad about someone or a situation.
d. Psycho-motor retardation or agitation: We all feel lost sometimes and experience difficulty in focusing on something, from time to time. However, a depressed person experiences sudden lack of focus, attention, concentration and/or memory. They suddenly find it too much of an effort to pay attention and tend to make a few silly mistakes. They are also absent minded most of the time.
They feel lethargic and experience a loss of energy. They don’t feel like doing anything, like going out with friends, socializing, going to work. They have to make a lot of effort in doing so.
Psycho-motor agitation is restlessness and overthinking. A depressed person obsessively ruminates about events and their own actions, or actions of others. This also shows in the form of constant restlessness and anxiety. A sad person might think a lot of events and people, but they do not tend to overthink to the point of exhaustion.
e. Thoughts of death or dying: Now, not all the people who are going through depression think about dying. However, at least once during their episode, they might think “Let this pain just stop. If death comes, I won’t be sorry.” When the depression becomes too severe because the person didn’t get help at the right time, the burden of all the above-mentioned experiences become too much to handle, and it usually leads to suicidal thoughts, plans and actions. Hence, we are seeing so many suicides in the news, and these are just a fraction which is reported. Suicide attempts, usually go unnoticed, or people take notice, reprimand the person for “being foolish”, or care for the person for a while and then leave them to their own destiny.
A lot of people come to me only when they have already reached this stage, and here, both medication and intense psychotherapy is required to get the person out of depression.
2. Depression lasts longer and makes one non-functional
Sadness, like any other emotion, is short-lived and goes away after crying for some time, or rationalizing the situation. Depression, on the other hand, lasts for over 2 weeks. If you notice that a person is sad, along with a few of the symptoms mentioned above, almost every day (not necessarily every single day), for two weeks or over two weeks, then they need clinical attention.
3. Depression occurs in episodes, sadness is situational
Depression usually comes in waves. A person faces depression for 2-3 weeks, or maybe a month, and then gets better on his own. He starts feeling better about himself and thinks that all is good now, and I have conquered the biggest battle of my life. And then bam! After a few days or weeks, the same symptoms start creeping in slowly. Only this time, it is bigger, larger and more difficult than before. This is because depression can be triggered easily due to stress, and if left untreated, it leads to multiple episodes, till it becomes a part of your life, leading to chronic depression. It also sets in slowly, a few symptoms at a time, till it reaches the stage of a full-blown major depressive episode.
Sadness, on the other hand, is fleeting and temporary. It can last for a few days, however, in the absence of other symptoms, it can be easily taken care of. Like I mentioned earlier, sadness is a natural and a very important emotion. It is good to feel sad in appropriate situations.
4. Depression leads to long-lasting changes in one’s life, sadness allows you to make changes in your life
The saddest thing about depression is, some people live with it for a majority of their lives, without realizing they need help. They turn bitter with age, angry, develop a low self-esteem, or worse, wish they were dying every single day. They try to refocus on their work, their hobbies, their family, however, no matter how much effort they put in, they are left with a sense of dissatisfaction. They try hard to find the old version of themselves, happy and carefree and risk-taking and bold. And at last, they give up trying to find themselves and just go through life suffering from this horrible condition, without being noticed.
Sadness, on the other hand, can be easily coped with. We all learn a lot from our sad experiences in life and come out stronger and more evolved than before. It gives us a sense of control over our lives. In depression, however, the person loses that sense of control.
DEPRESSION CAN BE TREATED!
Depression can be treated, but it needs to be treated with respect. Just the way you would take a heart attack seriously and go visit the doctor right away, with no worry about time, money and effort. Just because a heart attack can kill someone and you can see it visibly happening, does not make it any more lethal than depression. Look at all the people who have lost their lives because of suicide. Look at all the people around you who feel like dying every single day and feel dead inside every day. How is this less lethal than a heart attack? Unfortunately, depression cannot be seen physically. So, it is not taken seriously. Friends and family give advice and words of motivation and comfort. Then the same friends and family give up when the person still continues to feel this way. If we were to compare every painful pang during the depression with a nail being hammered into your body, you would see a bloody, battered body, going about its daily routine, feeling the pain with every movement, and yet nobody can see it!
With the right medication and therapy, along with healthy lifestyle practices, depression can be treated and overcome. It takes time, patience and effort from both you and your doctor/therapist, however, it does happen. There are so many success stories around the world where people have overcome depression in the right manner and are leading peaceful and meaningful lives. If you or your loved one are going through something, please get help. It can not only save a life but save the very essence of the person.