What's the difference between sadness and depression when you have bipolar disorder?  I was thinking about this question the other day. I came to the conclusion that there is a difference, and that one is an emotion, and the other can lead to a bipolar episode.  I also came to the conclusion that you need to know the difference.


One woman with bipolar disorder puts it this way:  'When I'm feeling sad, I keep telling myself that saying This Too Shall Pass.  But a (bipolar) depression goes on for days or weeks, and can lead into an episode no matter how many times I say This Too Shall Pass.  That's how I know the difference.'


Sadness is an emotion.  It has a beginning and an end.  It's a short-term thing, caused by a specific event – say the loss of something/someone, like the end of a relationship.  It can lead to a depression, but that depression will be short-lived.


There are different types of depression.  For example, there is unipolar depression and bipolar depression.  Unipolar depression is just depression by itself without being part of a bipolar episode, usually treatable by anti-depressants, which improve the depression.  While, with bipolar depression, you have to treat the whole episode, with medication, therapy, etc.


Again, where sadness can be triggered by a single event, bipolar depression can be triggered over and over again. With treatment, bipolar depression can be managed as part of bipolar disorder itself. 


Sadness can be a part of grief, say over a loved one's death.  It may go on for a long while, but the sadness itself will pass.  You could be sad over the death of your dog, for instance, but it will not be the same type of sadness, and it will not go on as long.  Either way, the sadness will not go on as long as depression.  You might be sad over the loss of a job, but only until you find another job – again, different than depression (it's only a short-term sadness).


Another important point to make about the difference between sadness and depression and how they relate to bipolar disorder is that you don't take medication for sadness, but you do for bipolar depression.  Especially if you're trying to catch the bipolar depression before it takes you into a full-blown episode.


There is such a thing as a mixed sadness.  For example, say your best friend since childhood gets married, or takes a job out of state.  You're happy for him/her, but you're sad for yourself at the loss of your best friend.


Some examples of a long-term depression might be the frustration of your life's dream or another life-changing event such as divorce after a long-term marriage or the death of a spouse.


Sadness, no matter how deep at the time, is still short-lived, although the memory of that sadness can last a lifetime.  For example, think about your first love (everyone remembers their first love). You might always remember him/her, the relationship, and the break-up, but although the sadness at the time was deep, and you may even feel sad as you recall the memory, you are long over it, as you moved on with your life.  In other words, it was a temporary sadness that doesn't keep you sad forever.


So there is a difference between sadness and depression, especially as it relates to bipolar disorder.