Am I Depressed or Just Sad?
Am I depressed or just sad? If you’ve ever endured an extended period of unhappiness, you may have asked yourself this question, or something similar. Sadness is sometimes – but by no means always – a symptom of a mental health condition. Identifying the source of your sadness can be an important step toward solving the problem and improving your mood.
What’s the Difference Between Sadness and Depression?
To answer the question, “Am I depressed or just sad?” you need to first understand the difference between these two terms.
To describe this difference is to note that sadness is an emotion, while depression is a mental health disorder.
Virtually everyone has moments of sadness, but most people don’t develop depression. For example, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, about 9.5% of people will develop major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder (which may involve major depressive episodes.)
Unfortunately, the emotion/mental illness distinction can be clouded by the fact that pervasive sadness can be a symptom of depression. In other words, sadness and depression aren’t mutually exclusive. It is possible to be both sad and depressed.
This means that maybe “Am I depressed or just sad?” isn’t the right question. Instead, perhaps you should be asking, “Is my sadness a symptom of depression, or is it caused by something else?”
Why Do I Get Sad for No Reason?
The short answer to the question, “Why do I get sad for no reason?” is that you most likely don’t.
Though it might seem like sadness or other distressing emotions sometimes occur out of the blue, the truth is that virtually every feeling has some underlying cause. The challenge, of course, is trying to determine what that cause is.
Here are a few possible explanations:
- You are living with untreated trauma. Your sadness results from a trigger, or a circumstance that is somehow connected with or reminiscent of the traumatic event. You may not even remember what the event was, or realize that you are still being affected by it.
- Your sadness has a behavioral cause. Maybe you have been following a poor diet plan or you haven’t been getting enough sleep. Either of these can cause weakness, fatigue, and irritability – as well as sadness. It’s hard to be happy when your body is struggling simply to get through the day.
- Your hormone levels are abnormal. If you are pregnant, have recently given birth, are about to menstruate, or are perimenopausal, fluctuating hormone levels can cause you to experience a variety of emotions, including sadness, that don’t appear to be connected to any external stimulus.
- You are depressed. Extreme sadness, loss of hope for the future, and similar feelings are classic signs of depressive disorders. If you experience dramatic shifts in mood and energy, you may have bipolar disorder. Regardless of the disorder, if your sadness is related to a mental health concern, effective treatment can make a world of difference.
So, Am I Depressed or Just Sad?
Yes, we realize that we haven’t yet answered the question at the top of this post. However, as we noted at the end of the first section, “Am I depressed or just sad?” might not be the best way to get a meaningful answer.
Instead of focusing on your current state of mind, it can be much more valuable to try to understand why you feel the way you do. To accomplish that, consider the following:
- Does your sadness follow a pattern? For example, are you more likely to be sad at a certain time of day, or before (or after) you’ve performed a certain task?
- Is your sadness accompanied by any physical discomfort? When you’re unexplainably sad, do you also often have a headache, a stomach ache, or other physical symptoms?
- Have you been eating well and getting an appropriate amount of sleep?
- Have you been having problems at work or difficulties in your relationships?
- Are you worried about your health or the health of someone you care about?
- Are you concerned about your financial stability?
- Have you been abusing alcohol or other drugs?
If a behavioral or environmental change (such as altering your diet or getting a different job) can lead to sustained improvement in your mood, the problem was probably the “normal” sadness that we all feel from time to time.
But if your sadness is disconnected from any apparent external cause, then it may be time to seek the advice of a qualified professional. A physical exam with your family doctor can either identify or rule out a biological source for your sadness. A mental health assessment at a reputable treatment center can determine if your struggles are related to depression or another form of mental illness.
Is Sadness Treatable?
Yes, in most cases, sadness is treatable.
- If your sadness is caused by an environmental factor (a difficult boss, health worries, etc.), you can either make a change or develop more effective coping skills. Either approach may eradicate your sadness.
- If your sadness is related to a hormonal imbalance or another physical cause, a doctor may be able to resolve the problem, which will hopefully alleviate your negative emotions.
- If your sadness is a symptom of depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental health concern, treatment can help. When you get the right type and level of care, you can achieve significant improvements in mood, mindset, and overall quality of life.
Contact Our Mental Health Treatment Facility in Los Angeles, CA
Montare Behavioral Health offers life-affirming inpatient and outpatient programming. Our goal is to help people whose lives have been disrupted by depression and other mental health concerns. At our treatment center in Los Angeles, you can develop the skills and strategies that will help you manage your symptoms and take greater control of your thoughts and feelings.
To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, visit our Admissions page or call us today.