Are you depressed, or are you sad? Here’s how to tell the difference

We have all felt different degrees of sadness at various points in our lives. It is normal to feel down when a life event did not turn out as expected, such as failing a test, financial trouble, relationship issues or losing a loved one.

Sometimes when these feelings of sadness are prolonged without a healthy resolution, the sufferer may slip into depression. Depression is a serious medical illness and it can affect anyone. A 2019 survey with corporate employees conducted by WTW found that over 1 in 10 employees in Singapore suffers from severe stress, depression or anxiety.

How do you tell if what you are feeling is due to sadness or if it is depression? This is a question that we may not be able to answer without guidance. Yet, many of us avoid talking about it for fear of stigma and embarrassment.

Here are 3 things you should know about depression.

When a person is depressed, it is hard to pinpoint a trigger for feelings of sadness.

When we feel sad, we can trace it back to a trigger or an event that is causing these feelings. Even if we are feeling lousy for that, there are moments when we are able to laugh and be comforted. As time passes, we feel better as we learn to adapt and cope with the feelings.

Depression however, is crippling and negatively affects all aspects of our lives. Depression can come up for no reason.  When we are depressed, we feel sad about everything. Emotionally, everything feels less interesting, less enjoyable, less worthwhile, even in the absence of a trigger. An activity that was once enjoyed, may suddenly become uninteresting.

It is hard to attribute depression to a trigger or event. And it is certainly not something that one can “snap out of” or simply “move on” by willpower. This is not to say that depression is not caused by an event. But as the event passes, and if the feelings still persist, please do start looking out for the other symptoms.

Symptoms of depression often look like symptoms of pervasive sadness.

The key tell-tale difference is that depression symptoms are often prolonged. If you or someone you know is suspected to be suffering from depression, here is a useful indicative checklist to help you determine if you should seek professional help immediately.

Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you experienced the following?

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

You can also complete this questionnaire for a more definitive reading.

If your answer is more than half the days or nearly every day for 5 out of the 9 symptoms, it is best to seek help as soon as possible.

Don’t suffer in silence. There are many avenues to seek help from.


Support helplines, counsellors, or a trusted friend or family member could be amongst your first option.

As depression is among the most treatable mental conditions, we recommend seeking help early from a doctor or therapist. They may prescribe medication, counselling, lifestyle changes or a combination of them. Majority of people with depression respond well to treatment and gain relief from their symptoms.

With a proper treatment plan and supportive network, it is possible to overcome depression and continue living a meaningful life.