Many people wonder, “Is depression an emotion, a disease, a state of mind, or something else entirely?” The confusion comes up mostly because a lot of people use the word “depressed” to mean they feel sad or even very sad.
Is depression an emotion? No.
The short answer is that no, actual depression is not simply an emotion. We will discuss that more further down.
Depression has biological, psychological, and social components
However, true clinical depression, which means depression that has all the “official” symptoms (which I go over in depression symptoms) is a complicated illness with biological, psychological, and social parts to it. Essentially, some people are born with a genetic predisposition (tendency) to become depressed. Then, things they tell themselves or things others tell them about themselves can make that worse or better, depending on the circumstances.
Example 1: Biological tendency to be depressed, but in a nurturing environment
I’ll give you an example. Suppose I was born with a tendency to become depressed. However, all my life, people were very supportive of me and helped me develop the skills I needed to nurture a healthy self-esteem. Further, suppose I did well financially and had no major social stressors. I might turn out to not be depressed even though I was genetically likely to be depressed.
Example 2: Biological tendency to be depressed, but in a non-nurturing environment
Someone who had the same genetic tendency to be depressed but was born to a less supportive environment and who maybe suffered from some poverty or reversals of other sorts (maybe some heartbreak or another) might become very depressed.
Example 3: No biological tendency to become depressed, but in a very non-nurturing environment
Now, let’s suppose that you have a low genetic tendency to become depressed. However, you have a really hard life. Maybe your family is abusive or other bad things happen to you. You might end up becoming depressed even though you have a low genetic tendency to become depressed. Those are the psychological and social aspects to depression.
So, there is a biological (primarily genetic), psychological, and social part to depression.
What is the difference between depression and sadness?
This is the crux of the issue when people ask, “is depression an emotion?” Many people refer to their sadness as “depression”. Maybe they should find a new name for the mental disorder of depression because it is quite different from simple sadness.
Sadness is an emotion – some people use the word “depressed” to mean sadness…
Sadness is an emotion. When people use the word “depressed” to mean sadness, then I suppose depression is an emotion too. However, true clinical depression is not an emotion. Emotions come and go on a constant basis. You can be sad for just half an hour or you can be sad for longer. By contrast, to be depressed, you have to have been experiencing symptoms for at least two weeks.
However, it is when you are sad for a very long time (at least two weeks) that we start to consider that you might be depressed. That is, the emotion of sadness, when extended over a long period of time, might become the illness of depression.
If you do think you might be depressed, you may feel hopeless about the whole thing because that is a symptom of depression. However, there is hope! Please reach out to get some help for yourself. Keep reaching out until you get the type of help and support that you need in order to get better. You deserve it even if you don’t feel worthy of it at the moment. (If you need to know how to reach out, I have a list of worldwide emergency numbers and crisis lines.)