Depression is a potentially fatal disease. It can, and does, kill. So why do people brush it off as easily as brushing off the bad latte that came with lunch? It’s a bloody big deal, people!
Depression is a big deal, but the word is thrown around so often that no-one takes it seriously. “I’m feeling a bit depressed today, my cat didn’t come home last night” – having a cat missing is distressing, it’s bad, but it’s not clinical depression. “My boyfriend left me, I’m so depressed!” – well, such things can again be distressing, can even trigger depression in some people, but again, unless someone is already predisposed to mental illness, some counselling and support and tincture of time are often all that’s needed. It’s not a terrible way to use the word, but it’s not really accurate. “I broke a nail at netball yesterday. It’s so depressing” . . . you, ma’am, are the problem. That kind of flippant, throwaway line is what delegitimises the real suffering that is the experience of clinical depression.
If the feeling is transient and self-resolving, then it’s not clinical depression. If you feel really shit for a while and then get better, it’s not clinical depression. If it’s sadness and anger because you missed the latest episode of Glee, it’s not bloody clinical depression, and would you please stop using the term?!
We’ve devalued the term so much that anyone who’s never has a brush with depression, whether personal or in someone they know, usually thinks of depression as something minor, something that can be brushed off. Worse, perhaps, are people who had a mild personal experience, eventually resolving on its own or with a wee bit of counselling or a few months of medication. Knowing a little about depression, but coming out the other side easily makes many people instant judges of people who are harder hit. “I had depression and I came out of it ok, changing your eating habits and exercising more will get you better. It worked for me! It’s not hard, why aren’t you trying?” – knowing a little bit doesn’t stop you being part of the problem with minimising the realities of depression.
Maybe we need a new name for depression, one that is clearly defined in people’s minds as serious and potentially deadly. Something which has the impact of names like ‘cancer’. The old name is too ingrained in the fabric of society to really be reclaimed.
Sweeping mental illness under the carpet, attaching stigma to it, minimising its power, all of it contributes to a world where people like me have to fight a whole lot of senseless battles in addition to our personal struggle with our illnesses.