Recognizing the Difference: Situational Sadness vs. Depression

Apr 5, 2016

Recognizing the Difference: Situational Sadness vs. Depression

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All humans, at some point in their lives, feel sad or upset about one thing or another. Some people hide their emotions, while some are open books, and levels of sadness over certain tragic events vary in people as well. Sometimes this sadness gets so extreme, people begin to use the term “depressed”. However, it’s important that people know and understand that situational sadness and major depression are not the same things.

All too often people live with depression for years, thinking it’s simply sadness and they are just unhappy people. On the other hand, some people that may just be sad over a particular event or situation find themselves taking antidepressants. This becomes an issue as adults age into their senior years; partly because people tend to face major life events at this point in their lives, and because depression is more common in elderly individuals.

Everyday seniors are faced with new, challenging and, at times, tragic events. For example, the loss of a spouse, the transition from work to retirement, the decision to move out of one’s home – these are all huge, life-changing experiences, and they can really take a toll on a person. All of these experiences will bring forth an abundance of emotions, including sadness, and for some, depression. This is why it’s important for a senior’s caregivers, family members and other loved ones to recognize the subtle difference between situational sadness and depression.

What is Situational Sadness?

Sadness is normal, human behavior. People experience different forms of sadness for different reasons every single day. This sadness is not constant and eventually goes away without the help of medication.

Signs and Symptoms

Temporary feelings of emptiness, hopeless or apathy are normal, especially following the loss of a loved one, or another major life event. The key word here, though, is temporary – these feelings go away as a person copes. If left unaddressed, it is possible that situational sadness could eventually become full-blown depression so being attentive to your loved one's current emotional needs can make the difference. 

Recognizing Depression in Elderly

The main difference between sadness and depression is that depression is not normal human emotion or feeling. While it is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world, it’s still an abnormal state of being, and the people suffering from depression often need help.

Signs and Symptoms

Although some of the signs and symptoms of situational sadness and depression do overlap, they are mostly very different. Here is a list of some of the most recognizable symptoms in someone who is truly suffering from depression:

  • Constant Irritability
  • Unidentifiable Aches and Pains
  • Sleep Issues (sleeping too much, not sleeping enough)
  • Problems Focusing or Concentrating
  • Changes in Weight or Appetite
  • Constant Feelings of Sadness or Hopelessness
  • Thoughts of Death or Suicide

Treatments for Depression

Depression is a serious illness, but it is treatable. There are three main ways to treat depression in the United States, two that are still universally popular today – Medication, psychotherapy, and electroconvulsive therapy.

If an individual chooses medication, they will likely be prescribed antidepressants, which many people feel are very helpful. Although, it often takes weeks for the antidepressants to work.

Psychotherapy is another popular option, which allows individuals to speak to a psychologist, therapist or other qualified professional, and adapt to new behaviors and new ways of thinking.

Electroconvulsive therapy, a much less popular treatment option in today’s society, is a procedure administered while the individual is under anesthesia, sending shocks through their body, causing them to have mild seizures. This is only done in cases of extreme depression.

Knowing the Difference

Knowing the difference between situational sadness and depression can save a life. Depression negatively affects 14.8 million American lives each year, but it doesn’t have to. Friends and family members should keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of depression in their elderly loved ones. They may not want to talk (insert link to depression blog here) about it, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering.

If you suspect an elderly loved one is suffering from depression, don’t hesitate to contact his or her physician, and in emergency situations please call 911.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-TALK

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if my loved one is depressed?

There are many varying symptoms of depression, most notably a prolonged sense of hopelessness, increased anxiety, and lack of energy to perform routine tasks. People suffering from depression may also have difficulty sleeping and similarly oversleeping, while still remaining fatigued. Depression can also lead to added stress and aches and pains, which appear without a clear physical cause. 

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My father has been dealing with depression for a while now, but it seems more severe lately; who can I call if he decides to harm himself?

It’s a tough subject for many, but if you suspect your loved one is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You’ll be greeted by trained counselors who can direct you to the nearest crisis center and provide professional advice. If your father harms himself, be sure to call emergency medical services.

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