Depression is a serious mental illness that can prove life-threatening for some sufferers of the condition. It can affect their everyday life and is currently the greatest killer of young men in the United Kingdom. Yet, unlike physical illnesses such as cancer, we don’t hear that much about it. When we do, it’s usually in a report about how the sufferers of depression are not getting any of the help they deserve and need.
I believe that our use of language has a lot to answer for in this lack of awareness. Many people, most probably excluding those who have experienced depression, will perhaps use the word “depressing” to describe a trivial disturbance to their everyday routine. In fact, when depression-sufferer Stephen Kelly did a search on Twitter, he found that people had used the word “depressing” to describe a bad lunch, a bad day at school, a sad episode of their favourite soap or tv show, or even just the fact it was a rainy day. In his article, Stephen Kelly aptly says that “by lumping depression with sadness, it cheapens something that claims the lives of millions worldwide […] when depression is being treated by most of society on par with an unfortunate lunch choice, how can we expect people to have the courage to come forward and ask for help?”
It’s a prime example of how powerful the human language can be and how easily it can foster misunderstanding. When the word “depressing” is used most commonly not to describe the mental illness but mild inconveniences, it can shape the perception of this mental illness as a bit of a joke, and help further the notion that someone suffering from depression can be just a bit of a pessimist. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our language is responsible for the development and regular enforcement of a stigma surrounding depression and this stigma is to blame for the trepidation that many sufferers have in talking about their condition and seeking the necessary help.
Depression is not the same as being sad and should not be used as a synonym for it. If you ever find yourself using the word “depressing”, try to remember the words of Gloria Steinem when she said; “‘When you’re depressed, nothing matters. When you’re sad, everything does.”
If you wish to find out more about this mental health condition, you can visit the Mind website here.