Depressed, or “Just” Sad: The Difference and When to Seek Help


Depressed, or “Just” Sad: The Difference and When to Seek Help

Many psychological diagnoses have made their way into popular language as adjectives—descriptive words that give information about something or someone. In today’s world, it is not uncommon to hear people saying that they feel “depressed,” “bipolar,” or “OCD,” when they really might mean that they are feeling “sad,” “stressed and agitated,” or “peculiar about how they like their socks arranged.” But when does “sad” become “depressed,” and when should you seek a professional counselor in Littleton?

Feeling vs. Disorder

Feeling sad is a part of depression, but feeling sad is also a part of life. Most people feel sad on occasion, such as when their children are struggling in school, when their loved ones are far away, or when little things in life build up and you miss an event or get a parking ticket. However, when you feel sad, you can usually realize that your sadness will come to an end, or that you can take steps to cheer yourself up! On the other hand, depression takes over your life. One of the key criteria for a diagnosis of depression is that you must have felt depressed for most of the time over the past two weeks. In addition, those things that used to cheer you up no longer work, because you may have difficulty finding pleasure or satisfaction in anything. You may notice changes in your body, such as a lower energy level, new inability to sleep or desire to sleep all day, or changes in weight. Others may notice these differences as well. Being sad is a temporary state, like being tired after a long day. Depression is a long-lasting shift in mood, like being tired simply from drawing breath.

Signs You Should Seek Help

If you have a sense that you are more than just sad, you should consider consulting with a trained mental health provider. If you find yourself unable to enjoy life, unable to get out of bed, or if you have experienced problems at work, home, or school because of these feelings, you should consider visiting with a psychologist. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, or if you find yourself so confused that the world makes no sense, you should call a crisis hotline, 911, or visit an emergency room.


By taking steps to protect your mental health before it becomes an emergency, you can start getting on the path to good mental and physical health sooner. Different people require different treatments, including traditional “talk” therapy, behavioral interventions, and psychiatric medications, but your first step is to meet with a qualified professional to figure out your next steps. Dr. Steve Lazarus, our Littleton psychologist, has helped many adults, teens, and children to improve their emotional lives and well-being. To set up an appointment, or to schedule a free phone consultation, please fill out the contact form.