What is the difference between sorrow and depression?

Nick Titov
3 April 2018
Faculty of Human Sciences


Professor Nick Titov, Project Director of the MindSpot Clinic, explains.

Sorrow is a feeling of profound sadness. It is a normal emotional response that often occurs following a loss. That loss is often of a loved one, but we can feel sorrow following loss of a relationship, a role, or something else that we value.

When people experience sorrow we often notice that they are very sad, may be tearful or grieving, and may describe regret or grief. There might be short-term changes in appetite, activity, ability to concentrate, engagement with others, and sleep, but these usually resolve in several weeks.

Professor Nick Titov.

People with sorrow can have depression, but while there is an overlap, clinical depression is different to sorrow.

Depression refers to a clinically recognisable pattern of symptoms that occur for at least two weeks and significantly affect one’s quality of life. Essentially, these symptoms stop people doing what they want or need to do. The groups of symptoms people with clinical depression experience include:

* Cognitive symptoms, which include having negative thoughts about themselves, the wider world and their future, and having difficulty concentrating;

* Physical symptoms of low energy, fatigue or exhaustion

* Emotional symptoms, including not enjoying activities that they used to enjoy, sadness, increased irritability and lowered tolerance for frustration;

* Behavioural symptoms such as doing fewer of the things they might normally do and enjoy, such as going out with friends, exercising and playing sport, and partaking in hobbies.

Sorrow, if severe, can trigger clinical depression.

A key clinical difference between sorrow and depression is that people who have sorrow due to loss usually have normal self-esteem. However, people who have clinical depression, whether or not due to a loss, usually have very low self-esteem.

The key message is, regardless of whether you think you have severe sorrow or depression, if you aren’t able to do the things you want to because of symptoms, then get professional advice. Often when we struggle emotionally we see the world differently. Talking to a health professional, or even a wise friend and mentor, can help.

Other helpful contacts include your GP, MindSpot and beyondblue.


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