Since we often use the words sadness, grief, and depression interchangeably, these three things are often confused. There are important differences between them. Each one calls for a different response.
Sadness is a normal, healthy part of life. Many things can cause it — disappointments, losing something important, negative thoughts, even getting sick. So often, when we get sad we want to get rid of it, or avoid it through distracting ourselves. This actually just makes it last longer. The best thing we can do when we get sad is to acknowledge that something has happened to cause it, allow the feeling to be there, and know that it will pass.
Grief is also a normal part of life. When we lose someone important through death or divorce, we go through a grieving process because we have to make a major life readjustment. The terrible sadness we feel after a major loss bears witness to how important that person was to us. If we allow ourselves to feel this sadness, eventually it will pass and we will no longer feel a constant sense of loss. We can also grieve things like the loss of a job or home, or even the loss of something less tangible, like an opportunity.
Since illness is also a normal part of life, there is nothing abnormal about someone with depression. Depression is a medical illness. Because one’s biochemistry changes when one has clinical depression, medication may be useful in the recovery process, and is often used only temporarily. Unlike sadness or grief, depression does not go away naturally. Someone with depression may feel very disheartened when well-meaning loved ones tell them to “cheer up,” because they are biochemically unable to do so.
While it is especially important to see a therapist and perhaps a doctor as well when one has depression, counseling can also help considerably when one has unusually frequent sadness or is grieving.