Shades of Blue: Am I Sad or Depressed?

November 6, 2021

“I saw the world in black and white instead of the vibrant colors and shades I knew existed.”

-Katie McGarry

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they feel sad. Sadness is a part of our emotions that you simply can’t avoid. But the good thing is that you wouldn’t know happy if you didn’t experience sad. Sadness can come for a variety of reasons, like losing someone, the break up of a relationship, or not getting the job that you had hoped for.

Although sadness, at times, is unavoidable, there comes the point where it can turn into something a little more. Depression is more than just being sad. It is a chronic feeling of hopelessness that you can’t seem to shake.

Sadness is usually a reaction to something or event in your life, and it is acute, or short-lived. When you feel sad, it normally only lasts until you have had a chance to rationalize what happened and make peace with it. Depression, however, is different.

Depression doesn’t always stem from some life event or even something going on in your world, and it isn’t an acute thing. For many, depression can last weeks, months, even years, if not addressed. There are various ways to treat depression, but the first step to getting better, or finding your happy place, is figuring out if you are just sad or if there is something more going on.

What is Depression?

Depression is a common yet, severe mental illness that disrupts your daily life and negatively affects the way that you live and the choices you make. It is, however, also a highly treatable illness once diagnosed. Depression can have many signs and symptoms that usually are related to feelings of sadness, and they are persistent. It can also lead to avoiding things in your life that you used to love and finding difficulties both in your work and your home life. 

What are the Symptoms of Depression

Although depression can vary in experience from one person to another, the most common signs are:

  • Feelings of having a depressed or saddened mood
  • Loss of enjoyment or pleasure in doing things that you once loved
  • Any change in appetite – either weight gain or weight loss
  • Trouble or difficulties sleeping or staying asleep
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Increased repetitive actions like pacing
  • Slowed speech or movement
  • Feelings of guilt or being worthless
  • Difficulty making decisions, concentrating and thinking
  • Thoughts of dying or suicide

You must experience symptoms for more than two weeks to be formally diagnosed with depression. And there are other illnesses such as thyroid disease or brain diseases that can mimic depression, so it is essential to rule out other reasons to conclude that you are clinically depressed.

Statistics show that as many as one in 15 adults will experience depression every year, which is about 6.7% of the population. And 16.6%, or one in six people, will experience depression at least once in their lifetime.

Although depression can begin at any time in life, most people experience its onset in their late teens to early twenties. Women also, women tend to be diagnosed with depression more often than men with studies showing that at a minimum, one-third of all women will likely have one episode of major depression at some point in their lives.

Sad woman sitting on bench outdoors

Depressed vs. Sad

 When you suffer the loss of someone you love or the end of a relationship, it is natural for you to go through a period of sadness and loss. Grief and bereavement are typical, and they stem as a response to a challenging emotional thing in life. Often, when someone is mourning the death of a relationship or loved one, they can feel “depressed.” 

But having depression is not the same as merely being “sad.” The process of grieving is natural, and although it might share some commonalities, it differs because it is a response to a specific event. Being sad is just one symptom of depression.

Sad people will often describe themselves as feeling “depressed,” when they are not; they are just “blue.” Depression is not sadness but a mental illness that alters the way that someone carries out their daily life. It changes the way that they think, react, and behave. 

While someone sad or blue might cry for a while and want to spend some time on their own, sadness will run its course, and the individual will resume their daily activities and lives within a relatively short time.

A person who is clinically depressed will withdraw from the people in their lives, may have difficulty sleeping, working, and have drastic changes in the way they look. Clinical depression does not just run its course. It is a chronic condition that will last more than just a week or two, and it can lead to thoughts of death or killing oneself.

What are the Risk Factors for Depression?

 There is a multitude of risk factors for depression, and it can strike anyone at any point in their lives. But some things can predispose someone to experience depression:

  • Biochemistry – The imbalance of chemicals in the brain can contribute or predispose a person to experience depression
  • Genetics – Studies show that depression can run in your family. One study revealed that if one twin experiences depression, then there is a 70% risk that the other will too
  • Personality – People who have low self-esteem, are generally pessimistic, or who are easily overwhelmed, tend to experience depression
  • Environmental – Being continuously exposed to neglect, violence, poverty, or abuse are more vulnerable to experiencing depression

How is Depression Treated?

Depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. Statistics show that as many as 80-90% of those experiencing clinical depression respond positively to treatment. And nearly all patients diagnosed will see some alleviation of symptoms from mental health treatment.

Before someone is diagnosed with depression, it is crucial to have an evaluation from a health professional that includes not just an interview, but also a physical examination to rule out other causes for their symptoms. The person’s medical and family history, as well as environmental factors, are all important to receive the correct diagnosis.


The balance of chemicals in the brain may contribute to depression. Antidepressants are a classification of drugs that help to modify brain chemistry. When taken, they typically have no stimulating effect on someone taking them if they are not experiencing depression. Antidepressants might help within the first week or two, but they usually need to be taken for two or three months for a person to feel their full effect. 

Sometimes, it takes the use of several different drugs and working with a psychiatrist to find the right one, before they are fully effective. Professionals usually recommend that patients use antidepressants for a minimum of six months to help with their condition. For people at high risk of reoccurrence, a longer-term treatment is usually recommended to decrease future episodes.


Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is sometimes the only treatment that is necessary to overcome depression. But often, it is used along with other things like antidepressants in people who are severely depressed. Cognitive Behavior Therapy has been shown to improve symptoms of depression significantly. It is a form of therapy that focuses on helping the patient with problem-solving and focusing.

The goal is to help them recognize how their thought patterns might be distorted and to help them develop better-coping skills and behaviors. Talk therapy can be achieved on a one-on-one basis with a professional or in a group setting. Group settings involve having several people who are experiencing the same feelings support and share with others. Usually, talk therapy can take as many as ten to fifteen sessions to realize improvement.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

When a patient is severely depressed, ECT can be an effective treatment. It is usually only used when other, more traditional, and less invasive treatments have not been successful. ECT involves the stimulation of the brain under anesthesia. And it usually requires two to three sessions a week for a total of anywhere from six to twelve treatments. ECT is typically not necessary unless other forms of therapies fail to help.

Woman relaxing in summer sunset sky at the beach

Other Self Help and Coping Treatments 

People suffering from depression can also benefit from healthy lifestyle behaviors either with professional treatment or in the absence of it, including:

  • Getting enough quality sleep
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Exercise
  • Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs
  • Finding a sound support system

Sadness vs. Depression

It is totally natural to be sad. In fact, if we didn’t ever feel sad, there would be no way to experience joy and happiness. But if you have been feeling sad in the absence of any life event perpetuating your feelings, it might be something more. Or, if there are other symptoms that you have been experiencing alongside your sadness like weight loss or changes in your appetite, it might be time to talk with a professional.


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