Depression or sadness: how to differentiate them?

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How can you tell the difference between simple sadness and real depression? a psychiatrist takes stock.

Heartbreak, death of a loved one, loss of job. All of these situations have one thing in common: they cause sadness. "Sadness is a normal emotion in the human being: it contributes to the adjustment of the person with her environment and participates in the balance of the state of mind", specifies Prof. Pierre-Michel Llorca, professor of psychiatry.

The feeling of sadness can manifest itself in different ways: gloomy mood, uncontrollable crying, withdrawal in oneself, loss of appetite, weight loss. "Sadness can last for a few hours and extend over several hours, days: it is not abnormal, it is human," the specialist develops.

Sadness or depression?

What really differentiates sadness from depression (which is a real illness, a psychiatric disorder recognized by the World Health Organization) is the ability to modulate emotions.

"A person who feels sadness will still be able to appreciate a moment spent with his loved ones: he will be able to smile sincerely in front of a funny movie, he will feel joy at the evocation of happy memories, he will gladly savor a good meal, explains the psychiatrist. In short, he will be able to feel something more than sadness (and perceive the positive that surrounds it), although this emotion remains dominant ".

Depression, a common psychiatric disorder

Depression is not a rare disease. "Depression can appear at all ages, even if we observe a diagnostic peak between 20 and 30 years and after 55, in particular in women", specifies Professor Llorca. Children and adolescents can also be affected.

"A person suffering from depression will not be able to modulate his emotions: he can only feel sadness, adds the specialist. The things that used to make him happy no longer give him joy. Changing ideas" is physically impossible. "This sometimes leads to misunderstandings between the patient and his environment And that is not a lack of willpower: depression is a pathology that consists of a dysfunction in the brain, the person is "stuck" in the "sadness" mode.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Other symptoms can accompany depression:

A pejorative state of mind that nothing seems to be able to improve,

Constant sadness that lasts 2 weeks or more,

Anhedonia: the person no longer feels pleasure from practicing activities that previously gave them joy (sports, creative activity, gastronomy),

Lack of motivation for everyday actions (apathy),

Psychomotor slowing (thoughts and actions seem slower).

Of course, depression can be treated "it is estimated that between psychotherapy and pharmacological treatment (based on antidepressants), symptoms begin to improve after 3 weeks; however, the person remains vulnerable for 7 to 8 months", explains Prof. Llorca. In total, the support lasts for about a year.

One last tip? "There are various forms of psychotherapy and each psychotherapist will have his own method: be careful and carefully choose your specialist according to your expectations."

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