Sad or Depressed? Know the Difference
Judy Myers, Extension Educator — Children, Youth, & Family Consortium
September 2014; reviewed by Ellie M. McCann, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.
It is not uncommon to experience a wide range of strong feelings during a crisis, but when do sad feelings become more serious and develop into depression? The answer depends on a number of factors, including:
- The degree of stress related to one event, or the occurrence of several stressful events at the same time; an individual’s built capacity for resilience.
- The presence (or absence) of supportive friends, family, and others.
- Genetic factors for depression.
- Gender, age, culture, and the influence of childhood caregivers can affect how a person responds to loss. For example, children who live with a depressed parent or caregiver may also be at higher risk for developing depression.
Sadness or Depression?
So how do you know when sadness has become major, or clinical, depression? The biggest sign is when your feelings are interfering with everyday functioning. If your state of mind is preventing you from doing daily tasks or clouding your thinking for days on end, you should seek professional help.
You can find a number of self-assessment tools on the internet to determine whether you may be suffering from depression or are experiencing normal feelings of sadness. We recommend two:
- The Goldberg Depression Test developed by Dr. Ivan K. Goldberg, a New York psychiatrist.
- The Sadness and Depression Checklist, developed by Neumann University
You may also be interested in our online workshop, Workshop 11: Getting Good Professional Help, to help explore how to go about finding professional help should you need it.
When to Seek Help Immediately
Persistent thoughts of suicide also indicate major depression. If you have these kinds of thoughts, seek help immediately! Here are some places to find help:
- Crisis Connection: 1-866-379-6363 (in Minnesota only)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-799-4889 (TTY)
Goodman, S., & Gotlieb, I. (1999). Risk for Psychopathology in the children of depressed mothers: A developmental model for understanding mechanisms and transmission. Psychological Review, 106(3), 458-490.
Miller, M. C., & Harvard Health Publications editors. (2013). Understanding depression (Special Health Report). Boston, MA: Harvard Medical School.
Prince, J., & Carson, S. (2013). Almost depressed: Is my (or my loved one’s) unhappiness a problem (the Almost Effect). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Dealing with Stress — Online resources and courses to help you recognize and deal with the Online courses and resources for understanding and coping with stress..
Workshop 11: Getting Good Professional Help — Online workshops help you look at your own behavioral health, become better informed about when professional intervention is needed, and better understand how to find and pay for professional behavioral health help. Part of the Dealing with Stress: A Web-based Educational Series.
Resources for Families — Free web-based resources for families experiencing a family transition like divorce or separation.