How can I tell if someone is sad instead of depressed?

If your loved one is suffering from symptoms of major depression, "you may hear a sense of constant sadness that's unusual," says Murali Rao, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. "Your loved one might be focusing on negative aspects of life, be easily tearful when watching a sad show, become more sensitive to criticism than usual. She or he may express pessimism and hopelessness." Even if they don't say they feel sad, depressed, lonely, or hopeless, they are likely to look and act down and dejected.
It can be difficult to tell if someone is sad or depressed. The two important elements to understand whether a depressive condition requires a specific intervention are timing and severity.

Timing refers to the evolution, day by day, of the person’s mood. Most people experience fluctuations in their mood such that a very sad day may be followed by a more serene one. If there are fewer fluctuations within some periods (such as a week) so that one retains the sad mood, there is a greater chance that the mood is in the area of depression.

Severity is the other important element. Deep and constant sadness indicate something different than occasional moments of emotional distress or discomfort.

A practical suggestion to substantiate the difference between a period of sadness and a case of depression is to propose one or more activities that the person used to enjoy (cooking a particularly appreciated dish or watching a movie, for example). This could help in understanding the severity of the grief, and it can also help provide a new point of view (having a positive experience).

A lack of interest in things that were previously exciting for the person could represent a depressive feature. Furthermore, the disengagement from activities may have a further negative effect in mood, along with a downward spiral.

Continue Learning about Depression Symptoms

Depression Symptoms

Depression Symptoms

Depression is more than just a low mood. Symptoms of depression include chronic sad feelings lasting up to two weeks, lack of interest in activities normally enjoyed, sleep disruption, overeating or appetite loss, feelings of guil...

t or worthlessness and a preoccupation with death/suicide. Depression symptoms also differ in men and women; the onset may follow highly stressful events such as physical and emotional trauma. Men tend to be more irritable and act out while women often cry or sleep more.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.