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Depressed or Just Unhappy? How To Tell The Difference

Updated on August 21, 2010


Or Sad?

Others May Help You Decide

We ALL experience feelings and the physiological effects of depression to our moods, minds, body, emotions, and thinking processes. Depression is quite normal under many circumstances, as life is not perfect for anyone and nobody is passed over all the time concerning life's difficulties. If mad moods and feelings, negative thinking, reactive behaviors and such are long-lasting or very intense, however, these may become serious problems in our lives and affect our ability to manage our lives and behaviors.

Often, a depressed person is only aware of 'not feeling quite right' and of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. Other people may approach and let us know that our behaviors have changed and that they think a problem with depression might exist.

If sound reasoning about moods and emotions fail to uncover a solid reason behind overwhelming feelings of sadness, then likely, depression is present. By contrast, if a person feels that they have reasons to be upset all the time and deems 'everything in general' to be a problem, this is another sign of depression - even if the person feels that 'everything is all wrong and is not going to get better' is a VALID statement. It IS a valid statement, but valid in the way that if help is not granted, this statement may become more true on a long-term, permanent level, than is necessary.

Unhappiness or sadness that can be chalked up to a temporary life situation is just that - an unhappiness or sadness that has a reason due to life situations we are struggling with.

Other people will often notice behavior changes in others who are depressed. Often this is a very legitimate, though externally oriented, sign of depression.

If someone approaches you to tell you that they've noticed something out of the ordinary in your behavior, it is a good idea to listen to what they have to say, particularly if they are offering 'help.'

Most depressed people are working overtime with trying to deal with their emotions and thought processes and don't even notice behavioral changes but these are visible to other people.

* NOTE - don't dismiss emotions other than 'sadness' as having an impact on depression. A lot of people who do get diagnosed with depression require some treatments with 'Anger Management.'

Anger can be turned inward to a point that someone doesn't display anger outwardly but is CONSTANTLY experiencing a low-level anger that causes an outward anxiety and feelings that one might lose control of the anger. One might feel hopeless to dispel the anger because it may be masked under any of a number of feelings and issues. One thing is certain - where there is anxiety, depression naturally follows.

More Differences

An important feature of depression is: "Hope," rather, "lack of hope." In the first example, 'everything is all wrong and is not going to get better' is also a hopeless statement. Without assistance, this is a very difficult thinking pattern to break.

Often, depressed people, whether they realize their state of depression or not, they will stop finding solutions, or they may hit a point whereby they no longer have the right skills to cope with life's problems. In this, they often 'lose hope' that situations will get better.

Usually, people who are experiencing unhappiness can point to a source for the unhappiness, thus, can still problem-solve around issues - or even 'wait the issue out.' For this, people experiencing unhappiness feel quit certain that unhappiness pretty much SUCKS but will pass, and then life will resume, as usual.

Depressed people may not have the capacity to cope with issues, they may think that 'things are hopeless,' suffer a self-esteem drop, and experience all kinds of mixed emotions about life in general. The key is in 'general.' They may be 'generalizing' and projecting their confused feelings and thinking outward to include EVERYTHING about life. Everything bothers them, as they become hypersensitive to life, in general, and everything becomes a reason for their unhappiness and difficulties.

Depressed people may be largely unaware of their own behavior changes, anger and other emotions, and will usually require specific help to overcome depression.

A person in a disappointing, unhappy period of their life will require some supports, too, but these are likely to be minimal - a few good talks with a good friend, some stress-relief tactics, a new perspective of his or her situation. The latter will usually be quite aware of the temporary nature of the bad moods and feelings in a particular situation.

The former may not even be able to identify where all the bad feelings are coming from.

Of course, an unhappy person could just be one of those unhappy, cranky, beligerent types, but that doesn't mean that a person like this is depressed.

Another point:

If a person has ever had a brush with other mental illness issues, then the likelihood of 'unhappiness' becoming or manifesting as depression are quite high. Depression naturally accompanies anxiety and other mild or severe disorders. In a fast-paced world with innumerable distractions, anxiety is a very common condition, so it follows that depression is more common than you think.

Good news: almost everyone suffering from actual depression is missing certain skills for coping with difficulties in life. Luckily, these skills are tangible and can be learned by almost anyone. I say 'almost,' because learning requires 'willingness to learn' and 'willingness to change,' but everyone has the 'capacity' to learn new skills required for coping with life and alleviating depression.

For those whose depression is of a more biological nature, these people will require a higher degree of support for depression, and this will include connection with experienced physicians.

"Unhappy" people shouldn't require the services of a doctor, however, even some significant and difficult time periods in life will necessitate that a person bogged down in emotional trauma seek professional help. A counsellor can help in these cases, to keep the time period of experiencing unhappiness SHORT and manageable.

An obviously KEY factor that separates depression from unhappiness:


If a person simply is not managing in life anymore, and management issues start to span out over time, this is a sign of depression. If behaviors have changed significantly and others notice...this is depression.

A person in rough circumstances that cause the person to react with unhappiness may cease to function properly in life for a very short time. They may be able to problem solve and 'take a break' in order to gain energy for putting new management tactics into action. The 'down-time' is significantly short, as compared with someone who stops managing appropriately due to depression.

Quick, Easy Exercise From Mental Health Professional in New York

Don't Determine Unhappiness As Being Okay

Depression comes in different levels of intensity, affects people for different periods of time, and also affects people with repetitive episodes that vary in number and different time periods between episodes.

Being 'unhappy' for a long period of time, may indicate that you're in a period where your coping resources are running short or are incompatible with the life situations you're in.

We certainly don't get to choose many of the things that occur in our lives, so everyone should take time to develop good coping and communication skills, and learn to be very self-aware in order to alleviate the chances of becoming depressed. Knowing ourselves helps isn't a no-no that is selfish - knowing ourselves is a good defense against depression and other mental and emotional difficulties in life.

It is a really good idea, even if you don't think you've experienced depression, to learn about depression in the event that something uncontrollable and unexpected happens in your life. If you understand what depression is, you may have a head start later in recognizing depression and behavior changes in yourself that might be quite honest reactions to some future tramatic event.

Real Down To Earth Tips For Beating Depression from a You Tube member who says it all straight up


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Rose Cowley hit the nail on the head, and that is the exact distinction I read the article hoping to hear about. For those coming to this article with that perspective, this article is naïve in its ignorance.

    • profile image

      Rose Cowley 

      5 years ago

      "you can still get on the road. You are still functional. You can still get behind the wheel and make the trips that you have to, for work or play. Unhappy is when you might have missed a goal but you are not going to stop shooting for it."

      And what when you can't get behind the wheel because you no longer have/cannot afford one? You can't make trips "for work or play" because a) no-one would give you a job and b) you can't get to where you want to play. When you've hit quite a few goals, but it's made no difference? Is that unhappy or depressed?

      There is a tide in the affairs of men.

      Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

      Omitted, all the voyage of their life

      Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

    • Richi Hashimashi profile image

      Hashi Mashi 

      5 years ago from New York, New York

      Unhappy is when things are not going your way and that bothers you, yet, you can still get on the road. You are still functional. You can still get behind the wheel and make the trips that you have to, for work or play. Unhappy is when you might have missed a goal but you are not going to stop shooting for it.

      Depression is when you are in such a rut, that you cannot get out to make any trip, in fact, you should not be behind the wheel because your mind is so focused on your misery. Depression is so dark that you marinate in your own sauce, stew with no end in sight, you have NO interest in making the trip to work and you have little interest in making a trip even for play, because you just prefer to disappear.

      The article is a good start at understanding the distinctions between depression and unhappiness. Even better is what do we do about it when we are in that room of darkness and depression? How do we get out without using medications that are sometimes even more lethal in their side effects? Those answers can be found at

    • profile image

      Rose Cowley 

      5 years ago

      Whilst quite informative, this article assumes that, whatever is making someone unhappy (as opposed to depressed) is temporary, short-term, or "fixable". What if it isn't? I've lost virtually everything in life that meant anything to me, and am almost certainly too old to get any back. Does that make me depressed - or just unhappy?

    • profile image

      credit card builders 

      6 years ago

      Many people are confused to get the difference between confused or upset. There are times when people want to be alone and try to make them calm when they panic .

    • profile image

      Sip Trunking Burnaby 

      6 years ago

      The difference between the sad and depressed are two different thing and people find it to be little confused with it.The better the result will be if the people can find what does depression really mean.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Such a nice blog i have ever seen perhaps. Well done and keep sharing.

    • teeray profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      I've visited your site - found from your HP profile. Very interesting stuff at your site and blog - thx for sharing. I have found similarities, as well, between this HP article and the wikinut article - go figure! We share a few similar ways of thinking. I just followed you on HP and will be reading your points of views here from now on!

    • Goodpal profile image


      8 years ago

      A great hub. It reminded me of my recent article with title "I Don’t Feel Well: Must be Depressed".

      I will be linking to your hub from my website also. Thanks.

    • teeray profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      MythiliK, thanks so much for linking up with me. I will go read your material right away. Look for a "fan/friend" notification. I've already been to your profile and am very interested in your article titles already!

    • MythiliK profile image


      8 years ago from India --> Switzerland

      Hi teeray, I posted a link to this hub in my latest hub about depression self treatment. Thought of informing you. Thanks.

    • teeray profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Hey andybond - thanks for the positive, supportive comment. I wish you well helping your mum through whatever's going on. Stay well!

    • andybond profile image


      9 years ago


      The information you have provided here is spot on. I have lived it and am now trying to get my mum through it.

    • teeray profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      I'm glad you found this material helpful, sylvia nicklin.

    • profile image

      sylvia nicklin 

      9 years ago

      excellent made me feel better informed

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 

      10 years ago from Virginia

      A big thumbs up to you teeray. :) This is an incredible resource that will certainly help many people. You've outlined everything clearly and with depth. I had never given much thought to the differences between 'normal' unhappiness and depression, so you've enlightened me. I do know how depression can bring on such despair and hopelessness that even getting out of bed can be a monumental task.

      Thanks for a great hub, you did a marvelous job. :)

      Quick personal note...check your email. ;) I'm guilty of not having mine under control until yesterday.

    • sukritha profile image


      11 years ago from Cochin

      Information you have provided is sutable to the situation. Well done

    • stubbs profile image


      11 years ago from London

      wow a great comprehensive answer thank you soo much for going into so much detail. A very good hub.


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