Feeling sad is a very normal part of the human experience.

On the other hand, clinical depression does not have to be a normal part of life.

Never the less, many people do experience clinical depression. Clinical depression is not the same as just having the blues, and it usually does not just pass on its own.

If you do have clinical depression, you will need to seek treatment for it. However, it can be tough to figure out if you’re just in a sad state or if you’re going through something more serious.

So, how exactly can you tell the difference between feeling sad and clinical depression?

Feeling Sad Doesn’t Last Weeks on End

Sadness is an emotion. That means it is fleeting. You can be sad for a little while, then perk up when something good happens.

Even when you are in the grips of grief, you generally don’t feel sad the entire time. You may be devastated by the loss. However, you also go through moments when you can look back on what you lost with feelings of nostalgia. And you might even laugh when a fond memory arises.

depressed tattooed man sitting on rock

In contrast, depression doesn’t lift so easily.

It is persistent. In fact, in order to meet the requirements for a professional diagnosis of clinical depression, you need to experience symptoms steadily for a minimum of two weeks. Steadily means that the symptoms are present all or most of the time every day for those two weeks.

Primary Symptoms of Clinical Depression

What exactly are the symptoms that need to last for two or more weeks?

The most obvious sign is a feeling of depressed mood. Alternatively, the individual might experience anhedonia, which is a loss of interest in things. In other words, people who experience depression might stop taking pleasure in work, hobbies, people, places, and activities that they previously enjoyed.

Therefore, if a person experiences a depressed mood and/or that loss of interest for more than two weeks, then there is a good chance that they might have clinical depression.

However, there is more to the diagnosis than just that. For example, the depressed state of mood must be significantly different from the person’s normal mood. Unfortunately, some people can live with undiagnosed depression for so long that they have trouble distinguishing it from their “normal” mood. However, friends and family can usually help indicate whether this depressed state of being is really the person’s true self.

Feeling Sad Doesn’t Impact Your Ability to Function

If you feel sad, you may take a day or two off of work. Likewise, you may also skip an outing with friends. However, feeling sad doesn’t significantly impair your ability to function.

pensive anxious woman sitting near water at sunset

In contrast, depression limits functionality in one or more areas of life.

In particular, pay attention to how a person behaves when it comes to work or school. People with clinical depression sometimes stop attending classes, begin to fail, get negative reports at work, or even lose their jobs because of their limitations. Similarly, pay attention to their mood’s impact on socializing. People with depression often don’t keep up their usual commitments to others, which can result in changes to their relationships.

Depression can also reduce functioning in other ways. For example, self-care can suffer. Feeling sad doesn’t usually lead to poor hygiene, changes in diet, or problems sleeping. Depression, on the other hand, may do just that.

Additional Symptoms of Clinical Depression

As noted above, in order to meet a clinical diagnosis of depression, a person must have a depressed mood and/or anhedonia for at least two weeks. Plus, that mood must impact the person’s ability to function in one or more area of life.

Moreover, the person must have five or more of the following additional symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping including sleeping too much or not enough
  • Fatigue, lacking energy, and always feeling tired
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt
  • Vast changes in weight (gain or loss)
  • Psychomotor agitation (restless, pacing)
  • Psychomotor retardation (slurred speech, slow movements)
  • Thoughts of death, including thoughts of suicide

As you can see, depression can look different for different people. For example, one person might be restless, have insomnia, and lose weight while another person is lethargic, sleeps all of the time, and gains weight.

However, in both cases, depression is notably different from feeling sad.

Whether you feel sad or think that you might have clinical depression, therapy can help you out of the rut. I invite you to learn more about depression therapy here.