Depression and Sadness; Knowing the Difference

Depression and general mental health have seen quite a lot of exposure within the past few years. More Africans are shining the light on mental health issues that pervade the community.  The prevalence of suicides and drug related deaths within the past decade have been particularly alarming. Especially with the advent of social media which publicizes some of these gruesome scenes. There is a pressing need to hold serious discussion to differentiate between depression and sadness.

Stats show a global increase of 60% in suicides within the last 50 years. Now, if we consider that there are 25 times more suicide attempts than there are suicides, it might be a bit more daunting. For places like Nigeria these statistics aren’t well documented due to shroud of secrecy and negligence. Social media awareness has created a world of exposure for these things. But unfortunately, there is always the fear of either over and under diagnosing. Depression and sadness will always have a lot in common, but there will be a cogent point of knowing when to call the shots and say which it is.



post-partum depression

In differentiating between depression and sadness there are a few cogent elements to help guide this. First on that list is the fact that sadness is an emotion, while depression is a sickness. Most times, our sadness has a cause. Something tangible goes wrong that triggers the feelings of sadness.

Another very important, marker is the time. This difference between depression and sadness has a 2-week marker. So, basically, if you are having a bad day or going through some shit at work, it could get you down for a while, but a day out will perk you up fine.

But when you wake up on a beautiful day, things going well in your life and you feel incredibly sad, we might be moving towards depression here.


Am I depressed? [source]
To help people more figuratively separate depression and sadness, here are a few symptoms of depression.

  1. The feeling of sadness or the blues continue for two weeks and more.
  2. Continuous Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of dying.
  3. Baseless feelings of guilt.
  4. Over- or under-eating, inconsistent appetite.
  5. Problems with sleep patterns, over sleeping, waking up intermittently, not sleeping enough.
  6. Unexplainable fatigue, restlessness, low energy and drowsiness all day long.
  7. Poor concentration, poor creativity and inability to perform normal tasks optimally.
  8. Lack of oy in previously enjoyable people, things, places or situations.
  9. Easily prone to undue anger and frustrations.
  10. Irritable and moody
  11. Inability to make decisions.
  12. Anxiety

Anyone who exhibits a majority of the above listed symptoms is likely suffering from depression. But a clinical diagnosis is required to prove this. As far as suicidal thoughts come into the mix, help should be sought ASAP. Exhibiting the other signs for a period of over 2weeks is a VERY RED FLAG.

DSM-5 Criteria for Differentiating Between Depression and Sadness

According to American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 criteria) then following 9 points when checked can prove depression exists. The severity of these symptoms is also considered.

  • Prolonged day-long feelings of depression or feeling depressed most of the days.
  • Lack of interest in formerly enjoyable activities
  • Sleep trouble or oversleeping
  • Excessive weight loss or gain from over or under eating.
  • Irritable, restless, agitated.
  • Irrational feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Poor concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts, actions or thoughts of death and dying or both.

If you or a loved one suffers from most of these symptoms, then it is time to seek help.

Risk factors

Different situations can cause depression. Analyzing these situations as well as the reactions help find risk factors. They include.

Depression and sadness are often caused by trauma
Trauma is a major cause of depression. This includes repressed or old trauma.
  • Early or teenage trauma
  • Problem adjusting to a life-altering situation such as trauma, death, limb loss or debilitating sicknesses.
  • Low self-esteem
  • History of substance abuse
  • Mental issues running in the family.
  • Lack of a firm back up in family and good friends.
  • History of mental disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, PTSD


Have you or anyone around you experienced any of the symptoms? Is there someone you think might as well be within the risk factors? Or have caused you to wonder? Please do not hesitate to leave a comment and tell us about it.

Kindly check back here for ways to deal with sadness and depression.