A new name for an old problem
I think it’s time we all just agree that on two kinds of depression.
- Clinical depression and…
- Colloquial depression.
If you’ve not heard of the second, it’s because I made it up. But as you will soon see, I only made up the name. But it’s really a thing.
Allow me to introduce you.
One on hand, we have clinical depression. It’s the real thing: the illness, the medical condition, the beast that changes the life of a person experiencing it for possibly ever. At its worst, it requires medication, and, for some, not even that works.
And on the other hand, we have what I call “colloquial depression.” Colloquial, (for the two or three people reading this (not you, of course) who may be unfamiliar with the term) means, “used in ordinary or familiar conversation; not formal or literary.” That’s exactly what this kind of depression is: the kind people talk about in ordinary conversation.
The problem with this type of depression is, it’s often not depression.
I’m careful to say this, because the last thing I want is to undermine anyone’s actual depression. And yet, I have to say it, because colloquial depression itself undermines the real thing!
The two kinds of colloquial depression
Further compounding the problem is the fact that there are two types of this colloquial depression. There is the colloquial depression where the person is not depressed at all, just sad. (Okay, very sad, but the point is, they are not depressed in a clinical sense.) That is, no psychiatrist or other mental health professional would actually diagnose them as depressed.
Then there’s the colloquial depression where the person really is depressed, but they have a mild, or even a moderate, form of it. See, mild depression often sorts itself out, and people recover from it without sometimes without knowing they were depressed, or when they do, without others knowing. Moderate depression, also, although less so. But the third variant, severe depression? That’s the real beast. Severe depression, typically, isn’t going anywhere until it’s good and ready to, thank you very much. Your positive thinking and all might help with mild and moderate, but with severe?
(Severe depression is serious enough to mess with women’s menstrual cycles, for crying out loud! This thing doesn’t play.)
An example of colloquial depression
…is a popular video by Prince EA, from mid-2016, You are not depressed.
As is common, he offers a mindset change to help people with depression. On the surface, it’s a great approach and to be honest, it will indeed help some people with depression. (To be fair, and to his credit, Prince EA does acknowledge in the comments that depression is more nuanced than this. The problem is, most will take his video at face value—how many people will read that comment?)
And the problem with the video, and with colloquial depression in general, is just that: not what it says but what it doesn’t say. The problem is what it implies without saying it: that all depression is similar.
The problem with that is it fails to take a number of realities into account.
Like the fact that, while depression really does often “come and go” (his words), without the help of medication, it can sometimes take months to go—months in which life can pass a person by.
Or the fact that depression can keep people up at night for weeks, unable to sleep, no matter what they do, and not even responding to sleeping medication that would typically work for other people.
Or the fact that depression can be so physically impairing that the affected person might lose interest in eating to the point of their lives being at actual risk. I’ve personally seen people so depressed they weren’t even blinking. “Come and go” that!
And this is the problem: when people keep mixing the two up, they make things worse for those who really are depressed, or who have the more severe variants. You hear things like…
Just believe in yourself. You don’t need all this medication. Look, I came out by talking to myself Don’t worry, it’ll come, and it’ll go.
You might as well tell someone not to bother seeing a doctor after fracturing their leg in a motor accident because you healed nicely from a sprain when you were bumped by a bicycle.
So what now?
I don’t know.
It’s not going to change overnight, that much is for sure. I don’t see colloquial depression going anywhere anytime soon. And yet, doing nothing is not an option.
Maybe a first step is to call it what it is, and continue to call it out when it shows up, and to ask those who speak of depression to clarify what they mean.
And definitely, to be more careful about using our depression (or lack thereof) to assess that of other people, when there are people trained to do those kinds of assessments.
It won’t change overnight, but like the story of the boy and the crabs, for every single person things are better for…
It’ll be a world of difference.
So tell me, what will you do to help make things better?