Many challenges we encounter in the motion of life cause us to experience different emotions of different intensities. The nature of most of them can be observed to be like passing clouds or like a wave. This is an integral component of normal human experiences.
Sadness is one such emotion. It can be a result of many difficult life incidents like loss, disappointment, rejections, frustrations, and incidental hurts we experience in our interaction with others. There is more often than not, a known cause. However, a person feeling simply sad, experiences relief from seeking support or connecting with resources that lead to composure. It passes when the incident has been processed by the individual or is perceived as a short term consequential experience. ‘Processed’ here would mean that the thought of the incident does not evoke the same amount of emotional response as it did during the incident, in other words, one feels more neutrally about it. It usually is fleeting or short lived and does not affect holistic living. Experiencing sadness can even be helpful in working through difficulties.
While sadness is a specific reaction, depression is a mental illness characterized by ‘persistent sadness’. Persistent here would indicate that it lasts for over two weeks to many months causing dysfunction across all or most areas of life like work, relationships, health and leisure.
Symptoms of Depression
- Lack of pleasure in earlier pleasurable activities
- Increased fatigability
- Increased guilt and decreased confidence
- Suicidal ideation/attempts
- Disturbed sleep and appetite
- Hopelessness and helplessness about themselves and the world
- Social withdrawal.
Depression, therefore, can result from an unhealthy, non-adaptive reaction to a painful event, where we either steer ourselves against our natural reaction to the event or get overwhelmed by it. It can arise without a specific or a clear explanation. In fact, an individual is susceptible to the illness even when there is a family history of mental illnesses. It is not something one can ‘snap out’ of.
A very important thing to remember is that depression may not always manifest as ‘sadness’ or ‘gloominess’. It can also show as increased aggression. Sometimes, an individual suffering from depression can display a smiling face and yet be struggling on an everyday basis. How it manifests can be attributed to one’s personality. When observed keenly, changes that are not particularly productive can be noticeable. If these behavioural changes are uncharacteristic of the individual, it is always good to check in as a friend, family member or colleague.