What is depression and how is it different from sadness?

At the heart of our collective difficulty with depression is a confusion about what depression actually is and how it can be distinguished from sadness. Sadness and depression have striking similarities. There are similarities between a depressed person and a sad person. Both withdraw from the world, both cry, both complain of alienation. However, a sad person knows the reasons behind the sadness, but a depressed person has no idea of these reasons.

Depressed people are incapable of telling anyone about what has sucked the life out of them. It is the inability of a depressed person to account concretely for his mood. A depressed person will often be accused of faking, exaggerating, or being a sham. A depressed person often sees the world from a nihilistic point of view for example “what’s the point of doing everything, when earth is going to be engulfed by the sun or he might say that life has lost all the meaning because they have spilt milk onto the floor and everything is now completely hopeless”. Sounds exaggerated! Right? But such is the case with a depressed person and we tend to often judge people by how they behave without even understanding where they’re coming from.

Depression is the deepest and the darkest realm. The easiest tasks might seem like a lot to a depressed person. Trivial things like grooming, bathing might feel like a mountain to climb. You just want to lie down on the bed for the whole time, disconnected from the world because you don’t have the energy, it feels like someone has sucked out the energy from your body. Depression has nothing to do with money, love or fame. Anything can trigger depression and it has nothing to do with logic and reasoning. Depression cannot be understood with reason. Depression is a seed of an irrational thought, which requires a catalyst and when that happens you tend to go into darkness.

John G. Cottone, a PhD in Clinical Psychology, describes “four different types of depression: situational, biological, psychological, and existential (Cottone, web 20 Jan 2020).” While this schema does not represent a formal diagnostic model, he believes that these can be used by a common man to communicate better with the depressed person for what they’re experiencing so, they can get the help and validation they most need.

Types of depression:

Situational Depression

Situational depression is a short-term depression. Situational depression can be triggered by a series of events such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Problem at workplace or college
  • Illness
  • Relationship
  • Losing job or money related problems

Previous life experiences can also affect how you deal with stress in your life. If you have a traumatic childhood, you may find it difficult to cope up with the stress and are at risk of situational depression if you ever have to deal with unpleasant events in the future.

Biological Depression

A biological depression is triggered when there is an imbalance in neurotransmitters like serotonin or norepinephrine. Biological depression can also be triggered if there is hormonal imbalance in the body.  These imbalances in the body can trigger the feelings of sadness and despair. In some cases, biochemical changes simply create a physiological state, where it makes impossible for people to achieve their goals. Here, a disruption in physiology creates a syndrome of low arousal, marked by persistent fatigue, low metabolism, poor concentration, and cognitive slowing.

There comes a point in biological depression where a person starts developing suicidal thoughts and is entrapped in this vicious cycle. This is where the traditional anti-depressants play a role to get the patient out of this rut. The medicine alone won’t help the condition, but can bring a depressed person to a state where psychotherapy sessions can be helpful to elevate patient’s mental health.

Biological depression includes:

  • Bipolar Disorder
    • There are various factors which contribute to the bipolar disorder such as biological, environmental and psychological. This is also called manic depression following extreme mood swings.
  • Postpartum Depression
    • Women who have major depression in the weeks and months after childbirth may have peripartum depression
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder 
    • Women with PMDD have depression and other symptoms at the start of their period.

Major depression

When you feel depressed for most of the time you may have major depressive disorder which may include feelings such as

  • Loss of interest in activities you once loved doing.
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling lethargic and without energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Hopelessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you have 5 of these symptoms for most of the time for more than 2 weeks you might be diagnosed with major depression.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

If the episodes of Major depression last longer than 2 years then it is called Persistent Depressive Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

There is also a seasonal depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder that occurs in the winter season when days become short and you get less and less sunlight

Psychotic Depression

Psychotic Depression includes symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, feeling that others are trying to kill you or harm you in some way.

How to help the ones who are in depression?

In our daily lives we might even fail to recognise a depressed person that’s how involved we are with ourselves. Let’s be a little more considerate towards our friends and family, and listen carefully to what they’re trying to tell us. If your loved ones often seem sad, appear hopeless, feel worthless, have withdrawn from the outside world, cares less about the activities he or she used to love, eating less or more than usual or even utter a word about death or suicide your friend might be suffering from depression.

Here is what you can do. First step is to give them attention. Humans crave for attention. Its embedded in our DNA. Listen carefully what your friend has to say and do not offer any advice, just listen. Be empathetic towards them and tell them it’s okay if you feel this way, validate their feelings. Help your friend find support. Sometimes a depressed person might not know what they’re dealing with and may harm themselves in the process. Help them to understand the situation and motivate your friend to see a doctor.

What everyone should do

Educate yourself about mental health. That is the most important thing everyone should do on this planet right now. Mental health is as important as your physical health. Take care of yourself, do not push yourself. Be your friend, if you have failed today do not scold yourself and say to your inner self “it’s okay to fail, I will try again” instead of saying “you are a worthless piece of crap”. Pat yourself on the back with affirmations. Most important thing you can do daily is to meditate for half an hour. Once you start empathizing with yourself you will have empathy towards everyone and world will be a better place to live.


Cottone, John G. “Four Types of Depression.” 27 Apr. 2020,

About Author /

Rishabh has completed his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Shoolini University. He has been working in a Pharmaceutical company in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, for last six years. Rishabh has a keen interest in music since childhood and he loves to explore new genres of music. He is a guitarist, a rookie writer and an aspiring YouTuber You can write to him at -


  • Vipul
    3 years ago Reply

    Every single line is so true! In the end, your emphasis of self empathizing is what most people who are dealing with depression lack. Most of the times people who give “attention” to the depressed fellows make things worse by giving them examples of how x person is worse than him/her and still has achieved n number of things. It is not like that depressed guy doesn’t know it. It is just, as you have mentioned, “…has nothing to do with logic and reasoning.” People really need to get this fact.
    Thanks for writing! Felt much better reading!

  • Preeti
    3 years ago Reply

    Very Informative

  • Deepak Bhardwaj
    3 years ago Reply

    Amazing stuff

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