Updated: Jul 10, 2020
Picture Courtesy- Sian Burkitt
Depression is a word that all of us have heard at some point in our lives. We have either used it randomly in a conversation or heard someone else describe their days like that. But depression is a clinically diagnosed mental health issue which is just as much a disease like any other ones out there. The definition of depression as per the American Psychiatric Association is:
‘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. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.’
People very often used the word depression as a synonym for sad. There is a huge difference between feeling sad or disappointed or lonely or frustrated or in a rut and suffering from the mental illness that millions of others live with. This isn’t to say that these emotions can’t be incredibly painful and devastating. People go through romantic heartbreak, have a child or a close family member diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, deal with professional disappointments, and function in a dysfunctional family environment. There are times when these “normal problems,” as many psychiatrists call them, are so intense and all-consuming that they flirt with the edges of what clinical, major depression feels like.
Picture Courtesy- Swathi Subhash Nair
Indeed, in some situations, extremely difficult life events like mourning, for example, may ultimately lead to clinical depression. In some cases, before they are put on the right cocktail of medications, there would be times when “normal problems” or stresses in their day-to-day life triggered episodes of major depression. But for the vast majority of people, this doesn’t happen. When you’re really sad, you might not feel like getting out of bed. When you’re clinically depressed, you can’t.
The problem with people casually using the term “depressed,” as a phrase for sorrow is that it preserves misunderstanding and stigma around major depression, which many people still view as a result of weakness or laziness. They believe that the person suffering from depression should be able to hoist themselves up out of it through hard work, soul-searching or good old-fashioned ‘keeping oneself busy’. They believe maybe a change of scene or some exercise or prayer can hoist them out of something like depression. Sometimes they also preach that time heals all wounds.
And why wouldn’t they? All of these things actually can help (and frequently do) when it comes to the emotions people mislabel as depression. But for people suffering from major depression, they typically don’t do a thing. Or if they do, it is a short-lived effect.
Our confusion between these emotions can lead us to neglect a serious condition that requires treatment (depression) or, on the other end of the spectrum, overreacts to a normative emotional state (sadness). And here's why the distinction is crucial: If you or a loved one is depressed, it has huge implications for our long-term mental health, physical health, and long life.
Many are actively advocating and educating people about various mental health issues including depression. It needs to be spoken up more often as it can help people who need it, get the right treatment and feel better.
Depression is a disease that ravages families and ruins lives and sometimes even ends them. But still, it is deeply misunderstood by those whose lives have never been touched by it. So with this blog today, in the interest of combating, correcting and overcoming that misunderstanding, we kindly request: please don’t use the word depression lightly. Please don’t use it when you are not.