Low Mood vs Depression: What’s the Difference?

Smarmore Castle Drug & Alcohol Rehab

Guiding You Through the Complexities of Understanding Low Mood and Depression. We’re Here to Help

Everyone experiences moments of sadness or feeling down from time to time. Life’s challenges, setbacks, and losses can cast temporary shadows on our emotions. However, when these feelings persist and deepen, it becomes crucial to distinguish between what is commonly known as “low mood” and a potentially more serious condition – depression.

If you’re constantly asking yourself, “Am I depressed or just sad?” then we hope this article can help you gain a bit more clarity. Here we’ll take a look at the key differences when it comes to low mood vs depression and explore what you can do if you feel depressed. 

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Key Takeaways:

  • Low mood vs depression: Depression includes symptoms lasting at least two weeks, which interfere with your daily life 
  • Depression can affect anyone, though it is more common among women
  • There is no one cause of depression but risk factors include negative life events, childhood trauma, certain thinking styles, having other mental or physical health conditions, family history or taking certain medication, drugs or alcohol
  • Symptoms of depression include feeling persistently sad, hopeless or flat, having low energy and sleep issues, and experiencing physical symptoms without a clear physical cause 
  • Depression can interfere with daily life by causing a person to become socially isolated, struggle with basic responsibilities and experience worse physical health 
  • There are a range of treatment options for depression including medication and talk therapy 

What’s the Difference Between Sadness and Depression?

Have you ever wondered ‘Am I depressed or just sad’? It can be tricky to tell the two apart. Most people have periods of experiencing low mood, sadness or other perceived negative emotions, but at what point does it cross the threshold into depression?

When it comes to working out whether it’s low mood vs depression, pay attention to the length of your experience and the impact mood has on your quality of life. When it gets to the point that your low mood is interfering with your daily life, or it has lasted several weeks and your usual coping mechanisms aren’t helping, it could be depression. Take a look at the symptoms of depression section below, and see if you resonate with any of them.

What is Depression? 

Depression is a common, but serious, mental health disorder believed to affect around 5% of adults globally. Despite its prevalence, it is a serious health condition and left unchecked can lead to poor quality of life and negative health outcomes including suicide. 

Depression can happen to anyone, though there are certain risk factors associated with developing depression. Women are about 50% more likely to experience depression than men. People who have experienced stressful events, trauma, abuse and severe loss are also more likely to experience depression. There is no one cause of depression, instead, it results from a combination of social, psychological, environmental and genetic factors. 

There are also different types of depression including:

  1. Major Depression: This is when you have symptoms of depressed mood or loss of interest for at least two weeks and to the extent that it interferes with daily activities. 
  2. Persistent Depressive Disorder: Sometimes called dysthymia or dysthymic disorder, this type of depression may have less severe symptoms but it lasts much longer, usually at least two years. 
  3. Perinatal and Postpartum Depression: These conditions happen during or after pregnancy.
  4. Seasonal Affective Disorder: This form of depression worsens with the onset of winter, and usually people find relief in spring and summer. 
  5. Depression With Symptoms of Psychosis: A severe form of depression which causes people to experience symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations.

The reassuring news is that successful treatments for depression do exist, including both psychological treatment, such as counselling for depression, and medications. There is also a range of self-care tools that people can engage with to help manage their symptoms of depression. 

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if you have been experiencing any of the following for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

  • Feeling persistently sad, anxious or flat 
  • Feeling pessimistic or hopeless 
  • Feeling irritable, angry or restless 
  • Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless 
  • Feeling fatigued or lethargic
  • No longer having an interest in hobbies or activities 
  • Less energy
  • Problems focusing, recalling information or decision making 
  • Issues with sleep (e.g. falling asleep, waking early, oversleeping)
  • Unplanned changes to appetite or weight 
  • Onset or worsening of physical symptoms that do not have a logical physical cause and don’t ease with standard treatment
  • Suicidal feelings, ideation or attempts 

However not everyone who is depressed experiences these symptoms. Some people will have a few, others will have lots and some may find that depression presents itself differently, but interferes with their daily life and functioning. On that note, the following could also indicate depression:

  • Becoming withdrawn or detached 
  • Being drawn to high-risk activities or behaviour 
  • More impulsivity 
  • Use of alcohol or drugs 
  • Isolating from loved ones 
  • Failing to meet their usual responsibilities 
  • Sexual dysfunction 

How Does Depression Affect Your Daily Life?

Depression can interfere with your day-to-day life in all manner of ways. If you’re wondering ‘Am I depressed or just sad?’ consider your day-to-day life and see if you have experienced any of the following: 

  1. Social Isolation: If you experience persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or worthlessness, you may avoid interacting with friends and family, preferring to spend time alone. This can damage, and eventually erode, relationships which can, in turn, worsen the depression. 
  2. Struggle With Responsibilities: With low mood and physical changes such as insomnia or less energy, you may struggle to hold down day-to-day responsibilities. This might eventually interfere with your work, family life and household responsibilities. 
  3. Reduced Quality of Life: As you lose interest in activities that used to bring you joy, such as hobbies, you may find your quality of life reduces significantly. 
  4. Worsening Physical Health: You might find that you are no longer motivated, or have the energy, to take care of your physical health. This might include avoiding exercise, not eating regularly, binge eating and not prioritising sleep or fresh air. 

Identifying the Causes of Low Mood and Depression

There is no universal cause for depression. Sometimes there isn’t even an obvious trigger. It used to be thought that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but new research has found there is no robust evidence for this theory. Some of the main causes thought to drive depression may include:

  • Negative Life Events: If you experience a stressful or traumatic event, it may trigger a depressive episode. Some common types of events could be losing a loved one, being abused, losing your job or the end of a relationship. 
  • Childhood Trauma: Experiencing childhood trauma (sometimes known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs) such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect or the loss of a loved one, can make someone more prone to depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that preventing ACEs could reduce the number of adults with depression by as much as 44%.
  • Thinking Styles: Research has shown that the thoughts you have can have a huge influence on your state of mind and, consequently, whether you’re vulnerable to developing depression. One study found that people with major depressive disorder had a specific thought pattern characterised by ‘ruminative and anxious thoughts’.
  • Other Mental Health Conditions: People suffering from other mental health issues, such as anxiety or an eating disorder, are more likely to experience depression. 
  • Physical Health Conditions: Likewise, experiencing poor health can increase your risk of depression. This might include chronic pain, life-threatening illness or physical health problems that significantly impact your lifestyle. 
  • Genetics: While there isn’t a specific gene responsible for depression, it has been found that depression has long been known to be moderately heritable.
  • Medication: Certain medications can cause depression as a side effect. This information will be available in the patient information leaflet or you can ask your healthcare professional for more information. 
  • Substance Abuse: Alcohol and drugs can both contribute to poor mental health, including depression 

What to Do If You or Someone You Know Is Suicidal

If someone has already hurt themselves, act immediately by calling 999 and requesting an ambulance.

If you’re worried that someone is thinking about suicide, Samaritans suggest reaching out and being an active listener. This means just listening, not offering advice, trying to solve problems or comparing their feelings to your own. 

If you are feeling suicidal yourself, it is crucial that you get help. You can call a helpline like Samaritans for free on 116 123

Seeking Support and Treatment for Depression


Several types of talk therapy can help people with depression. One of the most popular evidence-based options is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can help you to examine your old thoughts and behaviours and teach you to react differently to them. Unlike many other traditional forms of therapy, CBT focuses on the issues you are facing in the moment, rather than mining the past. 

Addiction counselling

If you are suffering from depression alongside an addiction, this is known as a dual diagnosis. This can be trickier to address because there are multiple issues to work on however it is possible to recover from both the addiction and depression. There is no one treatment option for dual diagnosis, and people are best served by a bespoke treatment plan that is tailored to their unique needs. This could include a medical detox, counselling for depression and a range of other supportive measures.

Getting Help for Depression

If you are suffering from depression alongside an addiction, it can feel overwhelming. Which should you address first? Where can you get bespoke help from? 

At Smarmore Castle, we treat dual diagnosis on a case-by-case basis ensuring that every patient has a personalised treatment plan to meet their own specific needs. 

Because of the complex nature of a dual diagnosis including alcohol or drug use and a mental health condition like depression, we believe the best approach is to treat both issues within a residential rehabilitation program. 

This may include a medically managed detox, individual and group therapy, complementary therapy, 24/7 medical and mental health support, lifestyle support, planning for a successful discharge and a continuing care programme.

To find out more, give our friendly team a call at +353 (0) 41 214 5111


Why Do I Feel Depressed After Drinking?

While alcohol might make you feel happy in the moment, it is ultimately a depressant. This means it alters your brain, so much so that drinking heavily and regularly is associated with depression. 

Can I Be Sacked for Being Off Sick With Depression?

Yes. If your employer believes you can no longer do your job on the grounds of capability, they can fire you. Before taking action they should look for ways to support you and give you a reasonable time to recover from your illness. 

How Can I Get Out of a Depressive Episode?

You can seek treatment and practise good self-care such as staying connected with loved ones, taking short but manageable exercises, eating regularly and healthily and speaking to someone about your feelings.

How Do Counsellors Help People With Depression?

Evidence-based approaches to treating depression include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) which teaches you to critically examine your thought patterns and change the habits that can contribute to depression. 

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