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Overcoming the Prolonged Blues

Apr 7, 2019 | 13m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • What you should and shouldn’t say to someone going through depression
  • Coping and prevention strategies that can help you and those closest to you
  • The differences between depression and sadness, and their unique effects
  • A checklist of signs to assess if someone might be going through depression


Pinpointing Depression

The last thing you should say to someone who is depressed is, “just relax”. It’s both annoying and a bad strategy. No one likes being depressed. It’s not a personal choice. Telling someone to “just get over it” or “toughen up” is insensitive, unsupportive, and ineffective. If they could, they would, but they can’t. While people can sometimes recover naturally, they can’t recover by just sitting around and waiting. Your support can make a real difference.

Instead of statements like “give it time”, you could use more helpful approaches like “Wow this sounds really hard, why don’t we give it one more try. I'm here for you.” This is a supportive and actionable thing to say because you’re encouraging them to be resilient, reminding them that they’re not alone, and you are showing them that you understand or are at least attempting to understand their pain. Be a breath of fresh air. Depressed people don’t need to be around negative people. They need positive people around them, and you can be that person. Apart from letting them talk it out with you, you could perhaps tell them to speak with a psychologist too.

Symptoms of depression can vary from mild to severe, and they also vary across individuals. Depression can also be expressed differently depending on cultures. For instance, there are expectations of certain cultures where women can be sad, but not angry, while men can be angry but not sad. This expectation affects how depression is expressed. Most often, when men display anger, they’re actually sad, and when women display sadness, they could actually be angry. Depression is becoming more common across age groups. Whether it’s a teenager or a grandfather, anyone can give you a period in their lives when they felt significantly low, and they were significantly unhappy. Just that in the past, there weren’t diagnoses or treatments, so it was just an intense sadness that had to be dealt with. But what’s the difference between depression and sadness?

Depression vs Sadness

Sadness is a very normal emotion that everyone will experience from time to time. Some things upset us, and we get disappointed. The key difference is in the person’s ability to function. Sadness impacts a person’s emotions, but it typically doesn't deeply affect the person's function in daily activities, and things that they regularly do. Another difference is that sadness is a temporary impact. For example, if I woke up this morning and my dog died, it’s natural that I’m sad for a period of time but this may not affect my job, sleep, appetite and meaning in life in the long term. Sadness is normal, but if someone is sad for an extended period of time and it impacts the way they operate and function in life, that's usually quite serious.

Sadness usually has a more specific trigger. It is usually specific to a certain issue, time or location, while depression is often more global. When you ask someone who is sad why they are unhappy, they can tell you quite concretely what they're sad about. A depressed person would not be able to be so specific. They'll usually say something very generic like “I don’t know what’s the matter, I just don't feel so great.”

For example, if I see a dog collar and it reminds me that my dog is not here anymore, I will naturally feel sad. When I walk down the street and see the local park where I used to walk my dog and realise again that my dog is not with me anymore, I will feel sad. Depression has less apparent triggers. I could be sitting at home and suddenly my mood sinks. I didn’t see a collar or anything. I just feel down. Or perhaps I wake up feeling low and sad. When there’s no specific reason, it’s likely the person has developed some degree of depression.

When it comes to sadness, there is a loss of joy but in depression, the person is experiencing anhedonia, a condition where happiness seems to have left the body. A joke or an enjoyable activity might cheer up someone who is sad but that wouldn’t cause a reaction in someone who is depressed. If you give a sad person a good burger, they might still be sad, but they’ll say that it tastes amazing. A depressed person would not react. It is as though nothing in the world would make them feel happy.

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