This column contains descriptions of one person’s experience with depression and other mental health related struggles which some readers may find upsetting. If you or someone you know is in distress, SAMHSA’s National Hotline (1-800-662-HELP (4357) provides free, confidential treatment referral and information services for individuals and families facing mental health struggles.
The increased prevalence of discussions of mental health issues has brought the word “depression” into our everyday vocabulary. But this integration into the everyday has significantly reduced the word’s weight.
People say that they’re depressed because they were assigned extra work that week or because they watched a sad movie or because the dining hall was out of Hi-C. But this isn’t what it means to be depressed.
Depression, real depression, causes you to lose interest in what you once loved. Real depression makes it difficult to function in your everyday life because nothing seems to matter anymore. Real depression makes you constantly doubt the validity of your friendships and hole up in your room for days because of it. Real depression makes self-hatred so prevalent in your every thought that not a day passes by that you wish you weren’t on this planet anymore.
It just isn’t comparable to the minor inconveniences that we face day in and day out.
When we continue to call ourselves depressed when we run into small hiccups, it devalues the true meaning of “depressed.” Now, when someone says they are depressed we don’t picture a debilitating mental illness, but rather a sad face or someone who just needs to get out more.
I have experienced depression for a decent part of my life, and recently it has felt more debilitating than it ever has before. I texted a friend about it last week because I wanted support and reassurance, as I felt cripplingly lonely, sad, and tired. In response, he talked about seasonal affective disorder, a well-known phenomenon, and said that I felt that way because the coldness and darkness of winter have been plaguing everyone lately, and we haven’t gone out a lot recently.
In a single swoop, all of my feelings were invalidated. I felt worse than I had before. He hadn’t understood my cry for help at all. His definition of depression was whittled down to a kind of general, mild sadness due to not getting out on the weekends enough. And yet, I can’t even blame him for this perception when we colloquially treat depression so casually.
We forget that depression is a diagnosable medical condition. People that are diagnosed with depression are going through a tough uphill battle that can’t really be understood by those who aren’t going through similar struggles. They need empathy and support and encouragement, and we are far less inclined to provide people with those tools when we don’t think they need them. When we picture someone with depression, we think of someone who just needs to pick themselves up a little, so we are reluctant to provide—and often don’t provide—the support and reassurance that they may need. And that is not to say that you should drop everything in your life to help a person because they are depressed. But maybe just hang out with them a little more, invite them to things, buy them their favorite ice cream from the dining hall without them having to ask for it, and other little things, because those little things mean the world to someone who is struggling to find reasons to stay in and leave this world.
Depression is a serious thing, and we need to stop using it to describe minor inconveniences that we all face on an average day. Speaking about it in this way makes depression seem far less consequential when we encounter someone who is diagnosed with and truly struggling with depression.
So, please stop using the word depression to express fleeting feelings, and maybe check in with your friends who are suffering from depression. I am sure they will appreciate it.