Depression Is Not Sadness

August 11, 2011 Natasha Tracy

Some people wrongly think that depression is the same as sadness. Depression, though, is much more than sadness. More at Breaking Bipolar blog, Natasha Tracy.

There is a popular misconception that depression is the same thing as sadness. I understand why you might think this if you don't have experience with depression. Depression is sad; it's true. But depression is a lot of other things as well. It's a whole new echelon of sadness. It's sadness 2.0.

This morning is a good example - I woke up depressed and the experience is nothing like sadness.


We all experience sadness. Sadness is a normal, human emotion. It's simply the expression of unhappiness or grief. We all need to do this as we move through life. Sadness has a cause even if we can't initially pinpoint it. Sadness has a beginning and an end.


We do not all experience depression. Depression, I would argue, it not a normal human emotion. Depression is the expression of extreme pain. Depression often occurs without cause. Depression has no defined end point.


Morning Depression

I woke up this morning with depression thick around my neck. I lay on the dark chocolate brown sheets of my bed knowing it was going to seem impossible to move my muscles. My cat was crying outside my door for breakfast but even his plaintive mews didn't make the idea of moving very convincing.

Once vertical, I realized I wanted to eat ice cream. I always want to eat ice cream when I feel terrible. My brain thinks it will make me feel better, even though, of course, it won't. My cat got fed as I silently admonished him for his whining and I got peanut butter on whole wheat crackers, coffee and water - my typical breakfast.

After about three crackers I found myself awash in tears, agony standing on my chest.

I had been awake for 20 minutes.

Depression is not Sadness

I was not sad. I was broken-hearted. Shattered-souled. "Sad" is a tiny word that is an order of magnitude off from how I felt.

Because depression isn't about sadness. Depression is about pain. Unrelenting, unending, boundless, merciless pain.

There's no reason for how I felt. There's nothing wrong. My life is the same as it was last night. And yesterday. And the day before that. Everything aligned as normal as can be. But depression couldn't care less about that. It's a disease. It's a disease that exerts pain. It doesn't need a reason.

The people who think depression is the same as sadness are simply people who have never been chained to the ocean floor condemned to drown, over and over.

Sadness is normal. Depression is not.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, August 11). Depression Is Not Sadness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

August, 11 2011 at 9:56 am

I think there is one fundamental difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is life affirming, depression is not. Depression is pathological.

August, 11 2011 at 10:10 am

For me, depression causes sadness...along with anger, frustration. Sadness by its self would be welcomed!

August, 12 2011 at 12:41 am

I really liked this post. It hit home. I read it to my husband because I thought maybe he could understand the words I didn't have. Thank you for writing this.

Natasha Tracy
August, 12 2011 at 6:05 am

Hi Michele,
You're welcome. I'm honoured and happy to help.
- Natasha

August, 12 2011 at 7:08 am

Thank you for being emotionally naked. I honor you for being able to expose your underbelly like this.
I consider myself a happy person dealing with depression. When I am in the pit of it I withdraw. Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness prevail. I have thoughts like, oh no, not again... When I am sad,I want to share the reason for my sadness, and seek solace. Sadness, to me, has a transitory feeling - I can reassure myself with "this too shall pass".

Donna MIlls
August, 12 2011 at 7:46 am

I can sooooooo relate!!! I too sometimes wake up that way or sometimes mid day I am overwhelmed with dispair and have no clue why sometimes. I try to spend time focusing on postive and the good in the world!! And then find myself suddenly spiralling into a black abyss, with no beinging or end,,,,,,,,,I so know this.
Thank you for your post<3

August, 12 2011 at 7:47 am

I also read this to my husband and mom. You described how depression feels perfectly and how it has no rhyme or reason on when it chooses to make its delightful presence known. I always feel like you have a direct connection to my brain when you write your articles. You find words to express how I feel and I use this blog as a resource frequently. Thank you!

Dr Musli Ferati
August, 17 2011 at 10:47 am

Depression is a syndrome of negative mood disorder, that include the feeling of sadness with many unconvenient consequences for global well-being to depressive ill person. In fact it is chemical disagreement of the brain with hypothetical etiology and satisfied medical treatment. This veracity has great psychiatric practical importance in the definitive outcome of this gravely psychic disease. That means to medicate at once this disastrous psycho-somatic disease with antidepressant for long lasting time, to prevent relapses and serous complications of this frequent current psychiatric entities. Because the main diagnostic criteria of depression are clinical, in which sadness is dominant symptom, it ought to distinguish common feeling of sadness from depressive anguish. In Depressive background suffers extremely the mind and the body in the same time, whereas in reactive sadness experience sprains only our emotions. Besides others sadness emotional state are temporary, while depression disorder is long-standing psycho-somatic dislocation.

Dianne H
August, 18 2011 at 12:30 am

the hopelessness that grips the heart and mind make me feel powerless because the judicial system has gone the riute of punushing Moms who want to be with htier children and thier childrre3n are begging to be with them. They are missing that needed marernal bond on a daily basis. My daughters Dad admittrd taking nude bath with our 51/2 year old daughter and to long tub baths playing leapfrog. Where is my little girl today ? WITH HIM. All I did was go to school full time work a 30 hor job plus overtime and his family says I put my carreer ahead of my children. Unless you have thousands of dollars it is almost hupeless to have the trial reheard, Depressed yes, unhappy yes, hurt yes,All that is wxpected out of me is oay near *$800 a month child support plus fed and clothrd them buy the school supplies and all emotionAL NEEDS WHEN I HAVE THEN EVERT 2 weeks. They go to school improperly dressed, sometimes falling aslee in the same clothes they wore that and get up and wear then again the next norning. SOMEONE TELL ME THIS IS NOT NORMAL

August, 18 2011 at 3:47 am

For me it's peanut butter cups. Everything tastes like cardboard, but I can still almost taste a peanut butter cup. So I suppose it gives me a little hope. If I can still almost taste that now, maybe one day everything won't taste like cardboard anymore. It doesn't make me feel better, but it keeps the idea that this might not be forever in my head.
Sometimes I think that's a dangerous thought though. Even though it's not forever, and I'll end up in hypomania or stable again eventually, it doesn't mean it won't come back. In fact, having bipolar, I *know* it will return eventually, and I'll be stuck in this agony again.

August, 18 2011 at 1:26 pm

Natasha, I feel the pain you described so eloquently and would like to say that I hope your depression lifted in the days that have passed. I'm working off some depression with a mix of severe anxiety which again led me to speak hurting words to people I love.

August, 20 2011 at 11:36 pm

You described how depression feels exactly. I am dealing with depression for quite a few years now on and off. No matter what I do I can't seem to come out of it. Mainly i withdraw from people around me when I am depressed, it is difficult for family and friends. The pain is endless and its emotional that often no reason. You defined it so beautifully. Thank you so much for putting my pain and feelings in perfect words.

August, 20 2011 at 11:40 pm

You described how depression feels exactly. I am dealing with depression for quite a few years now on and off. No matter what I do I can’t seem to come out of it. Mainly I withdraw from people around me when I am depressed, it is difficult for family and friends. The pain is endless and its emotional that often has no reason. You defined it so beautifully. Thank you so much for putting my pain and feelings in perfect words

Natasha Tracy
August, 21 2011 at 8:03 am

Hi Dianne,
I'm so sorry to hear you are having legal trouble. I have no knowledge in this field, the only thing I can recommend is to get a lawyer who is familiar with mental health issues because a mental illness is an _illness_ and you cannot be discriminated against because of it. Hopefully a lawyer can successfully make that argument for you.
Good luck.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
August, 21 2011 at 8:05 am

Hi Ashavan,
"Sometimes I think that’s a dangerous thought though. Even though it’s not forever, and I’ll end up in hypomania or stable again eventually, it doesn’t mean it won’t come back. In fact, having bipolar, I *know* it will return eventually, and I’ll be stuck in this agony again."
Yes, I understand that.
My personal view is to pretend to forget. Not denial, exactly, because that, too, can be dangerous, but just sort of pretend that reality isn't there.
As I've said, it's crucial to watch out for warning signs, but I also think we need moments where we can just enjoy where we are. It's a hard balance because as you said, you know the mood will swing around again.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
August, 21 2011 at 8:06 am

Hi Anamica,
I'm sorry you have felt such pain, but I hope seeing that others go through it too will bring some comfort. Knowing you're not alone helps many people.
- Natasha

August, 23 2011 at 4:33 am

Thank you for explaining the difference between sadness and depression. I have spent many hours trying to explain to my loved ones how I feel and whats going on in my mind. I've had to say over and over it was not something that was done to me or a reaction of any sort it is a disease plan and simple and this is a symptom. a painful paralizing symptom.

Natasha Tracy
August, 23 2011 at 5:37 am

Hi Shanon,
Many of us have spent ours trying to explain this difference, you're not alone there.
Maybe reading this to them might help? Sometimes the words of another resonates in a different way.
- Natasha

August, 30 2011 at 5:37 am

Awesome description... especially liked "agony standing on my chest". The description of the very physical feeling that you are being crushed is sooo apt. I often feel my chest is being crushed -- what I feel is my heart ache. I find myself feeling totally hopeless and alone, and waiting for this life to be over so I can go on to the next. The only thing that helps me is to think about all the people in the world who are so incredibly worse off than I am. Of course, that sometimes leads me to feeling guilty...

Karyn E. Cavallo
February, 23 2015 at 5:35 pm

I am so thankful that I found this blog!!
I am so depressed I can't even type what I want to tell you all.
Maybe tomorrow.
Just wanted to say how glad I am I stumbled upon you all!

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