Difference between depression and despair (a basic idea)

The article below depicts a fine difference between depression and despair. Despair and depression are defined in the first section. Differences between these two concepts are also pointed out at the end. 

Before differentiating depression and despair, we should understand what they mean separately.

What is despair?

Despair is a feeling of a complete loss of hope, usually accompanied by desperation, anguish and sadness. 

According to Psychology Today, Despair is a common human experience. We have all felt despair during difficult periods in our lives. We may occasionally despair about our job, marriage, love life, family, finances, world events, etc. But typically this despair dissipates with time. 

When despair doesn’t dissipate but rather deepens, and becomes chronic by diminishing the quality of life that impairs functioning and keeps us from moving toward our goals, dreams, and desires, it has become pathological or clinical despair.

Clinical despair

Clinical despair is a condition characterized by existential hopelessness, helplessness, pessimism, worthlessness about life. Despair is profound loss of faith, meaning and hope about one’s ability to find satisfaction and fulfillment. 

An Austrian Holocaust survivor, neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher and author, Viktor Frankl, had a terrible concentration camp experience during the Holocaust which made him understand and define despair in the most simplistic formula, that is, D=S-M: despair equals suffering minus meaning.

The clinical implication here is that despair can be treated by helping the patient attribute to or discover some meaning in his or her personal suffering, misery, and symptoms.

Philosophical perspective

According to philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, Despair could be understood in three stages:

Spiritlessness : those whose overt behaviours are well adjusted but have lack of inner strength and spirit. 

despair in weakness and despair about weakness :when an individual refuses to become fully one’s own self and this guilt of his cowardly refusal and inability creates frustration this leads to despair.

 The despair of defiance: the individual has the capacity to turn suddenly into a euphoric state characterized by elation, excitement or optimism so often seen in extremis during the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

Clinical despair can occur at any point of your life, from infancy to old-age as described by psychologist Erik Erikson. According to him, every person experiences a crisis at every stage of their life which can be either fought off or lost to. The eighth or final stage was named “integrity vs despair”. During the integrity versus despair stage, people reflect back on the life they have lived and come away with either a sense of fulfillment from a life well lived or a sense of regret and despair over a life misspent.

What is depression?

According to the American Psychological Association, Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression.

Difference between depression and despair

Based on definition, depression is a debilitating disorder that affects people in many ways; Clinically it is a period of 2 week or more when the person is having a very low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of worthlessness, sleep problems, eating disorder, and change in overall perception about their own self. The person may also contemplate suicide. 

Based on definition, desperation is a symptom of depression, although anyone can feel despair regardless of whether or not they are suffering from depression. Despair is a feeling of lack of hope and worth in certain aspects of life. Usually despair dissipates with time. Chronic despair, if not treated, can turn into a debilitating disorder as depression. 

An individual having despair is able to go about day to day tasks and can generally function quite normally though, this doesn’t make it any less serious. Depression makes a person face difficulty in living day to day life.

Despair is experienced by everyone at some point of their lives especially during difficult situations. Depression is a mental illness which is not experienced by everyone. 

Despair dissipates with time. Depression usually doesn’t dissipate with time. It needs interventions and medications for proper cure. 

Despair is not usually a disorder but can be treated as one(clinical despair), if reached severity. Depression is a disorder. 

Depression encompasses behavioural and physical symptoms like tiredness, lack of energy, eating problems, sleeping issues. Despair, if not severe, only shows emotional responses like feelings of hopelessness and pessimism. 

Removing despair from depression

One of the top ways to understand the difference between despair and depression is to separate the layer of despair from depression.  

The topmost layer of the blanket of depression comprises despair and hopelessness.  It consists of emotional behavioural response to the symptoms of depression. It is about when someone is depressed they have negative thoughts about their condition which makes the problem more difficult to be treated. For example, they may think, their depression is making them unwanted and unlovable.

When you assume that you cannot do anything because you are down, it causes within you the vicious cycle of being depressed about depression. This may lead within you an oscillating thought of hopelessness, unhappiness, passivity and avoidance, ending in despair. 

Despair is an emotional response having a behavioural consequence which may or may not have its root attached to depression. 

Depression on the other hand, is not just an emotional response. It is a condition where the person shows emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms with despair as one of the emotional responses encompassing pessimism, hopelessness, hopelessness. 

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Conclusion

From the article above, a difference between despair and depression has been discussed.

We understood what despair means. We also saw what depression looks like. Differences were stated at the end along with the topic of how to detangle the topmost layer of depression.

It can be thus concluded that despair is a feeling of extreme hopelessness, anguish and pessimism, if not severe, dissipates with time. Depression on the other hand is a mental disorder encompassing numerous emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms like feelings of worthlessness, anger outbursts, social isolation, sleep issues etc. Therefore despair is an emotional response which may or may not have its root in depression. 

FAQs : Difference between depression and despair 

What is emotional despair?

Despair is a feeling of a complete loss of hope, usually accompanied by desperation, anguish and sadness. It is an emotional response having a behavioural consequence which may or may not have its root attached to depression. 

What is the state of depression?

According to the American Psychological Association, Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.

What despair means?

1 : utter loss of hope a cry of despair gave up in despair. 2 : a cause of hopelessness of an incorrigible child is the despair of his parents. 

What is another word for despair?

Despair, desperation, despondency, discouragement, hopelessness

What happens to the brain during depression?

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression.

What does a depressed person’s brain look like?

People with depression were shown to have thicker grey matter in parts of the brain involved in self-perception and emotions. 

Is it a sin to despair?

No it is not a sin. Despair comes naturally, you don’t “do” despair. Is it a sin to have fever? The answer applies in your question as well.

What’s another word for SAD?

synonyms for sad:

 unhappy, despondent, disconsolate, discouraged, gloomy, downcast, downhearted, depressed, dejected, melancholy.

What does melancholy mean?

Definition of melancholy : suggestive or expressive of sadness or depression of mind or spirit sang in a melancholy voice.

Does depression age your brain?

Research shows your brain physically ages faster when you’re depressed. 

How to differentiate despair and depression?

Despair is an emotional response having a behavioural consequence which may or may not have its root attached to depression. 

Depression on the other hand, is not just an emotional response. It is a condition where the person shows emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms with despair as one of the emotional responses encompassing pessimism, hopelessness, hopelessness. 

What genes are associated with depression?

The serotonin transporter gene and genes involved in the serotonergic system are

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evil-deeds/201103/clinical-despair-science-psychotherapy-and-spirituality-in-the-treatment

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/despair

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-despair-and-depression

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