Defining the line between sadness, depression, and clinical depression can be difficult, especially when so many people use psychological terms to describe normal mood states. This article will help you understand the difference between depression vs. clinical depression and help guide you toward effective treatment options to start your path to recovery.
Is It Normal to Feel Sad? For How Long?
Feeling sad from time to time is a completely normal human experience. But when you feel sad for several days, weeks, or months, you may start wondering, “Am I depressed or sad?”
Feeling perpetually sad is one of the more common symptoms of depression, but sadness alone typically isn’t enough to lead to a diagnosis. If your sad and emotional state resolves in less than two weeks or doesn’t lead to other mental health symptoms, it’s likely not the result of an underlying depression diagnosis.
Even extended periods of sadness are often normal — grieving the loss of a loved one, for example, can lead to sadness for weeks or months but is generally considered to be a completely normal experience.
But when sadness lasts for several weeks, starts to interfere with your everyday life, and you start experiencing other mental and physical health symptoms, seeking out the help of a mental health professional can help you determine whether your low mood has reached depressive levels.
Depression is a serious mental health condition that has a number of difficult and disruptive symptoms. Like many other disorders, it occurs on a spectrum, where some people experience depression in milder forms and others can experience it in moderate or severe forms.
Depression is much more than feeling sad. It can last for weeks, months, or years and typically won’t resolve on its own until people seek out evidence-based treatment options. Further, depression can lead to other physical and emotional symptoms and can be much more debilitating than a transient low mood.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression has both physical and mental health symptoms. While there are several types of depression, often with a unique set of differentiating symptoms, the core experience of depression is typically similar between these multiple diagnoses.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling a perpetual state of low mood most of the day, most days of the week
- Chronic fatigue or energy loss
- Sleep disruption, including either insomnia or hypersomnia
- Unexpected weight changes
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- A feeling of emptiness
- Excessive feelings of shame or guilt
- Thoughts of death
To be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms need to last at least two weeks and lead to impairment in your everyday life. They could interfere with your work or responsibilities at home.
Left untreated, the symptoms of depression typically don’t get better on their own. Seeking out professional help for a diagnosis of depression is often the best way to start the road to recovery so you can return to living your life on your own terms.
Different Types of Depression
There are a number of different depression diagnoses, often presenting in unique ways.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common forms of depression. Roughly 21 million adults in the United States experience a major depressive episode each year. It is characterized by chronic low mood, energy loss, and difficulty concentrating.
MDD is a serious mental health condition and is often considered to be one of the more severe forms of depression.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
Persistent depressive disorder is a milder form of depression – but it can last for years. Ir To receive a diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder, people need to experience symptoms for at least two years. Without treatment, it can sometimes be a lifetime diagnosis.
Premenstrual Depressive Disorder
Premenstrual depressive disorder (PMDD) is a debilitating condition that affects some women roughly one to two weeks before their period starts. PMDD is different from premenstrual syndrome — which can cause mood swings and fatigue — and often, the two can happen at the same time. It can be debilitating and difficult to overcome, but there are effective treatment options for women with this diagnosis.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs in certain climates during specific times of the year. Sometimes called seasonal depression, people with this disorder can feel several of the common symptoms of depression during the darker months but typically see their symptoms improve during spring and summer. Some people experience depression in the summer and improvement during the winter.
The Difference Between Depression vs. Clinical Depression
There is no formal distinction between depression vs. clinical depression in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Instead, the distinction between depression and clinical depression lies in public perception, which is nonetheless important in understanding the difference.
What is clinical depression? Typically, this term refers to a confirmed and diagnosed experience of some type of depressive disorder. It’s a term that implies that a person has sought out expert advice and confirmed that they are truly experiencing depression.
In contrast, when people say they are depressed, it can be unclear whether they’re just saying that they’ve been feeling down or if they have a diagnosed condition. Not unlike how people may refer to themselves as “being a little OCD” when they just appreciate being organized, some people will say they feel depressed when their mood is lower than usual.
Finally, some people may use the terms depression and clinical depression to signify severity. In this scenario, depression alone implies a mild or moderate experience of depression, whereas clinical depression implies a more severe level of symptoms and impairment.
What to Do When Low Mood Isn’t Improving
Determining whether you’re just feeling sad or whether it’s developed into full-blown depression can be difficult on your own. But when your low mood isn’t improving, and it’s starting to affect your overall quality of life, seeking out evidence-based treatment is the best way to start the path to recovery.
Depression treatment has been studied for decades, and a number of traditional and novel treatment methods have been developed to help people find relief. With new and innovative treatments at Plus by APN, even people with treatment-resistant depression can find new avenues and hope for recovery.
Traditional Depression Treatment Options
Traditional depression treatment has historically fallen into one of two camps: talk therapy and medication. Both of these options are effective for reducing symptoms for many people and can often lead to a complete remission of a depression diagnosis.
Talk therapy is the classic first-line approach for treating depression. Multiple therapeutic styles have been developed to specifically treat depression, including therapies such as:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
While each of these therapeutic styles has a different toolbox, the ultimate goal is the same: helping people resolve depressive symptoms, learn to manage them better, and learn new ways of thinking and behaving that promote better mental health.
Programs such as CBT are highly effective, but they don’t always work for everyone. Thankfully, there are a number of other treatment options that can be used in conjunction with therapy for even greater results.
Medication management is often used in tandem with talk therapy approaches. Antidepressant medications can help shift your brain chemistry in a direction that makes it less likely for you to experience severe depressive symptoms and can have other positive effects.
Some medications can provide a substantial energy boost, for example, or help you start getting a healthier sleep cycle. But deciding which medication is right for you typically requires the help of a trained psychiatrist who can manage your medications, help you find the correct dose, and change your medication as needed.
This approach, called medication management, has similar success rates to talk therapy approaches. But in combination, the majority of people experiencing depression will experience significant and substantial results.
Holistic Depression Treatment at Plus by APN
Despite the effectiveness of traditional treatment options, many people still don’t get the results they hope for. New and innovative treatment methods can help even when other treatments have failed.
Ketamine-assisted therapy (KAT) is a technique that uses the dissociative psychedelic ketamine to help people make meaningful progress in talk therapy. Taking ketamine can help people disconnect from their feelings of depression, look at their situation objectively, and make stunning breakthroughs through one-on-one work with a therapist.
KAT helps to facilitate this process by pairing you with a therapist, a medical team, and a comfortable environment for your ketamine session. Most people with depression will feel substantial benefit from treatment straight away, and the effects are durable — lasting months or years without any further treatment.
KAT can be done alone, in combination with other treatment options, or for multiple sessions for people who don’t see the results they hope for. It provides hope for people who’ve tried depression treatment without success and can vastly change the course of your life.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
An innovative technology known as deep transcranial magnetic stimulation leverages the findings of neuroscience in a therapeutic application. In depression, certain regions of the brain become underactive, not sending the quantity of electric signals that are associated with a high quality of mental health.
Deep TMS starts with a detailed brain map, identifying regions of your brain that may be underactive. Then, using a specialized cap outfitted with electromagnets, small magnetic impulses are sent deep into the brain — increasing the electrical activity of these regions.
This can quickly reduce depressive symptoms and create lasting brain changes that support a long-term recovery from depression. While the science of Deep TMS is relatively new, it is extremely promising and has already been proven to be effective for a number of depressive disorders.
Start Treatment at Plus by APN
Plus by APN combines both traditional and innovative depression treatments as part of our holistic mental health model. We believe that offering our clients every effective treatment option available helps ensure your chances of success and gives you the options to pursue the treatments that you think would be most effective.
When you’re ready to begin, reach out to the Plus by APN team by calling 424.644.6486 or by filling out our confidential online contact form. Our team can help explain the full breadth of our comprehensive mental health treatment options and help you find the tools you need for a lasting and worthwhile recovery.
- “Major Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression. Accessed 23 Jan. 2024.
- Murrough, James W., et al. “Antidepressant Efficacy of Ketamine in Treatment-Resistant Major Depression: A Two-Site Randomized Controlled Trial.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 1 Oct. 2013, ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13030392.
- Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (DTMS) in the Treatment of Major Depression: An Exploratory Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Journal of Affective Disorders, www.researchgate.net/profile/Helena-Gellersen/publication/281283460_Deep_transcranial_magnetic_stimulation_DTMS_in_the_treatment_of_major_depression_An_exploratory_systematic_review_and_meta-analysis/links/5a8be8fb458515b8af96aa91/Deep-transcranial-magnetic-stimulation-DTMS-in-the-treatment-of-major-depression-An-exploratory-systematic-review-and-meta-analysis.pdf. Accessed 25 Jan. 2024.