Sadness is a normal feeling that we all experience many times throughout our lives. From simple, disappointing instances to more severe, perhaps heart-breaking ones, sadness moves through us all at its own pace.
Though it doesn’t feel good to be sad, according to Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, a licensed psychologist and owner of the Baltimore Therapy Group, it can be a normal response to a range of events including loss, disconnection from loved ones, or uncertainty about aspects of your identity, such as your career path.
“Normal feelings of sadness, however, need to be differentiated from a depressive disorder,” Lyons tells Considerable. Imagine you feel like you’re constantly being weighed down by a 500-pound lead suit. Imagine, too, that you have no control over when you can take this suit off — every movement inside of it requires a monumental effort.
This is what depression is like.
More technically, according to Lyons, the biggest differentiators between sadness and depressive disorder are the persistence of the distress and impairment in functioning. “With Major Depressive Disorder, for example, symptoms need to be present for two weeks before providing a diagnosis,” says the psychologist.
It’s important to check in with yourself and be attuned to how your body is feeling. You know yourself best. Below, we’ve compiled a list of potential signs your feelings of sadness could be something more serious. If you’re worried about your sadness, don’t hesitate to connect with a medical professional to decide the best plan of action.
1. You feel disinterested in activities that used to bring you joy
It’s one thing to be sad, but it’s another to feel disinterested in life — especially those things you used to love.
“A common sign of sadness being something more serious is when you lose interest in day-to-day activities for an extended period of time,” says Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified mental health consultant and family care specialist. “If you’re feeling extreme sadness and just can’t seem to put the same enthusiasm into things that usually excite you, it could be a sign of depression.”
2. You’re experiencing extreme moods
According to Mahalli, intense or extreme moods that last for an extended period of time could be a sign of bipolar disorder or depression.
“When your mood changes are disruptive and harming your interpersonal relationships, along with sleep interference, it could be a sign of mental health issues, including depression,” she tells Considerable. “If left untreated, these mental illnesses may get worse and cause real pain.”
However, the psychologist says that many people lead full and productive lives when treated with proper medication along with psychotherapy.
3. You’re unusually self-conscious
Having trouble being happy for people when they have special occasions like engagements, weddings, or new babies? That can be a part of depression, says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. This can get complicated if you’re also consumed with how you’re viewed by others.
“You may feel self-conscious in a social setting and worry about people judging and criticizing you,” Walfish says. “These are called projections. It means that you are harshly judging yourself critically and projecting this onto others anxiously worrying that they will judge you.”
In fact, says the psychotherapist, it is you who is being critical and judging of yourself — your brain may be hindering your ability to recognize this.
4. You’re having trouble leaving the house
“If you have clinical depression, you may feel like you don’t want to get out of bed, you may call out of work, cancel plans with friends because you’re insecure and tired,” Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a yoga therapist tells Considerable.
This is because often depression causes people to feel unmotivated and low in self-worth.
5. Your eating patterns are erratic
According to Healthline, if you’re having trouble eating, or eating too much, coupled with weight gain or weight loss, this may indicate your sadness is a more serious condition.
Though appetite indeed fluctuates during periods of grief and mourning, if this lasts longer than usual and interferes with your day-to-day, it’s worth consulting a professional.
6. You’re struggling with unmanageable fatigue
Intense fatigue is almost always a symptom of depression. “As people become tired, they stop participating in social experiences and enjoyable activities,” Margaret Wehrenberg, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of several books on anxiety and depression, including The 10 Best-Ever Depression Management Techniques told Psych Central. “They don’t have the energy or endurance. But isolating and not moving their body makes them even more tired and depressed.”
According to Wehrenberg, fatigue and depression have a circular relationship.
Overcoming depression is a process of gaining strength, resilience, and positive coping skills for your mind, body, and spirit. It’s by no means easy, and seeking professional help is highly valuable.
According to Ziskind, healing from depression can be a lifelong journey. “Seeing a professional therapist can help you gain emotional outlets such as walking outside in nature, doing yoga, eating a healthy breakfast, and making healthy friendships.”
If you’re feeling suicidal or know anyone who is, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. is at 1-800-273-8255. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.