Sadness Does Not Equal Depression

Depression is a popular diagnosis in these uncertain times. Many of us who face real daily challenges may question the cognitive-behavioral concept that our distorted thinking really is what is making us unhappy. When we have the ongoing struggles such as financial pressures or physical disabilities, it’s difficult to write our worries off as just the result of distorted or irrational thought processes.

Dr. David D. Burns, author of Feeling Good, makes a simple distinction between healthy sadness and depression. “Sadness is a normal emotion created by realistic perceptions that describe a negative event involving loss or disappointment in an undistorted way,” he writes. Whereas “depression is an illness that always results from thoughts that are distorted in some way.” He notes that either depression or sadness may follow a loss or failure, but that sadness comes without distortion, never includes a loss of self-esteem, and “involves a flow of feeling and therefore has a time limit.” Depression, however, persists or recurs without respite.

Burns makes the example of losing a loved one. The reasonable thought might be that you will miss the companionship of this person, while a distorted thought may be that you will never be happy again without this person. He holds that our feelings result from the meaning we attach to what happens to us. If we are able to eradicate distorted thoughts, we are then able to deal with the loss or failure in a less painful manner.

Information culled from Feeling Good by Dr. David D. Burns, pp.231-257.