#33 Sadness vs. Depression

Season #3

Sadness vs. depression

What is the difference between sadness and depression? And how do we know if an older person is experiencing one or the other?

Firstly, sadness is an emotion, and we all can get sad at times, while depression is a mental health condition.

The difference can be seen in terms of persistence of symptoms (how long they have been there) and the level they are affecting the person and their functioning in day to day activities and engagement.

There is an overlap between sadness and depression, but it’s really important to avoid giving labels to what is going on unless you know the person, and have the qualifications to assess them.

It’s not uncommon for an older person to deny they are depressed, even when they are displaying symptoms such as feeling low, crying a lot, lacking energy or are struggling to concentrate.

In this case, we need to consider, what is the benefit of having that label of depression? Is it helping that person?

There is much in modern life that might make people sad – floods, fires, rising costs of living to name a few. No-one is happy about any of this, including older people. We need to remember that sadness is a normal response and emotion to external events that make us upset.

However, depression is not just about emotions, there’s much more to it than that.

We know that for depression and anxiety, the best outcomes are achieved when we take a combined approach of talking to a psychologist, taking medication (if needed) and making changes to lifestyle factors. When it comes to lifestyle, we can all support an older person in this area. You don’t need to have a degree or be a health professional. Small acts like taking the older person outside, helping them to engage with others or playing their favourite songs. These acts all make a difference.

In general, if symptoms persist constantly for at least two weeks, it is an indicator that depression may be the cause. This includes emotions, thoughts, behaviours and physical symptoms.

Emotions may include sadness, irritability and anger. They may feel helpless and hopeless. Thoughts can be frequently self-critical. An older person experiencing depression might also have impaired memory and concentration. We can often jump to the conclusion that this means the person has dementia, but these symptoms exist in depression as well. Depression and memory issues can be reversed if the person gets the support and treatment they need for their depression.

Often, a combination of behaviours, emotions, thoughts and physical conditions they have can make them question if they want to keep going.

So, how can we help people before they get to that stage? What can we do?

We know that lifestyle changes is something we can all help with, and this must happen sooner rather than later. Because otherwise, there comes a point where their physical health declines, and they may never want to get out of bed. It’s then really hard to re-engage them after this point.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to encourage an older person to engage with others and enjoy nature. Avoid jumping to conclusions and labelling if you are not qualified, instead focus on giving them hope that things can improve, even though their health and care needs are changing.


In this episode you will learn:

  • How can you tell the difference between sadness and depression?
  • What are the symptoms of depression?
  • Are the symptoms of depression different in an older person?
  • What can you do for an older person who is experiencing depression?
  • Why must we do something sooner rather than later?



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