What’s the Difference Between Sadness and Depression?

What Sadness Looks Like

By Lauren Krouse

Everyone feels sad sometimes. Maybe you didn’t do well on a test at school, got into a fight with a friend, or haven’t been getting along with someone in your family. It’s normal to feel down when your day—or the whole week—just hasn’t gone your way. Other times, you feel sad for no reason. 

People react to sadness in different ways. 

You may let yourself sink into your feelings and cope by crying, listening to sad music, or spending time alone. Sometimes it helps to find a distraction, such as throwing yourself into homework, playing sports, or scrolling through funny videos. Other times, sadness can come along with anger, irritability, or the urge to avoid or control things because, well, a lot of things are out of your control. 

These experiences and feelings are all normal. If you feel down after a disappointment or setback, such as a misunderstanding with a friend or a less-than-awesome performance at school or work, most of the time you can get through it and feel better in a few days. You can probably remember a couple times when it felt like your world was falling apart one day, only to feel much better the next. Looking back, you may even struggle to remember what you were so upset about. 

What Depression Looks and Feels Like

Like sadness, depression is common and a normal part of life for a lot of people. But it’s important to know what makes it different so you can figure out when you or someone you care about needs more support. 

When you’re experiencing depression, feelings like sadness and anger don’t go away or the things that are causing them—such as the end of a long-term relationship, your parents’ divorce, or a stressful life at home—aren’t easy to move through on your own. You may not feel terrible all the time, but the feelings are more persistent when you’re depressed, like a dark cloud following you around or a fog you can’t seem to clear.

You may also feel sad, guilty, hopeless, or numb with or without a clear reason why. Those feelings can linger for weeks or even months. 

Learn about other signs and symptoms of depression. 

The biggest thing that differentiates depression from sadness is how long it lasts and how much it affects your life. To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, which is the clinical term, you need to have symptoms of depression for more than two weeks. 

Depression can cause mild symptoms you can manage by making some changes on your own, as well as more severe symptoms that need medical treatment, such as having suicidal thoughts

Find out about the different types of depression. 

How Do I Know When I Need Help for Depression?

Trust your instincts if you suspect you may be more than just sad. We all do better with support, especially if we’re dealing with depression. You can feel a lot better—and sooner than you may think—when you get connected with the right kind of care. 

Learn about how to ask for help with depression, including who to tell and how to start the conversation. 

If you think a loved one may be depressed, take a moment to reflect on how they’ve changed. Depression in a friend may look like someone: 

  • Talking down about themselves.
  • Ignoring texts or invitations out.
  • Starting big fights about little things that usually wouldn’t bother them.

It can be hard and scary to see someone you care about struggling, but you can make a difference by gently expressing your concerns and encouraging them to seek professional help. 

Here’s how to start the conversation and support your friend throughout the process.

If you need help right now:

  • Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
  • Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
  • If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.