What’s in a word? How many times have we heard the words “It’s so depressing” or “I am depressed”? What does it really mean and in saying these words are we talking about an experience that is perhaps fleetingly negative? The words depression and depressive illness are some of the most misused words and misunderstood mental health conditions. Friday, 7th April marks World Health Day with a focus on depression. Never has this focus been more needed.

Depression as a mental health condition is very much misunderstood. For anyone who experiences clinical depression this adds to the burden in trying to explain their illness to others. Well meaning comments such as “it will pass” and “you will get over it” or even a “dumbing down” of the intensity of the feelings associated with clinical depression don’t help. Similarly, well intended advice such as “go for a run”, “you need to make more effort to get out” or “you need to be more positive” can have a devastating effect on someone who is experiencing a depressive illness. If you have not experienced clinical depression it is very difficult to understand the sense of utter hopelessness, debilitating sense of fatigue, loneliness, isolation and emotional black hole that is all consuming and overwhelming. Many people who have had depression also talk of the disruption to their normal pattern of life such as the inability to take pleasure in anything, to connect with anybody, the experience of bursting into tears for no apparent reason, of a visceral feeling of pain and the sense that all is irretrievably lost.

For many who experience depression being able to iterate what is happening for them is extremely difficult, not least because they are trying to make sense of it themselves. People are often afraid to say the word for fear of being misunderstood, for fear of being perceived as weak or unable to cope and for fear of being rejected by their family and friends. The word depression is used far too often in the incorrect context so when somebody who is experiencing clinical depression tries to talk about it they are often misunderstood as simply having an off day or “going through a rough patch”. Clinical depression is so much more than this. It takes over; it affects daily functioning, sleep, work, relationships, and all aspects of life. It is not a passing or a fleeting feeling; it is persistent and, in crisis is omnipresent. People can and do recover from depression with appropriate care and treatment that is individual to their needs, together with the understanding and support of their family, friends and colleagues.

The World Health Organisation released new worldwide estimates on depression in February 2017 and these figures show that the number of people living with depression increased by over 18% between 2005 and 2015. The theme for World Health Day is “Depression Let’s talk”. We need to talk about depression in a meaningful way, to have open and honest conversations about what depression is and its impact for individuals and society in general. As a society we need to ensure that we use the word depression appropriately and in the right context. It is crucial that we learn to understand that depression is not a fleeting emotion, that it is a debilitating illness for many. The next time we feel like saying “I am depressed” or “It’s so depressing” we need to stop and think am I depressed or is it that I am just having an off day. There is a world of difference. We need to respect the seriousness of clinical depression and support people in a meaningful way in their recovery. It is often not possible for a person to explain why and how they experience depression because it is so intangible and finding the words to adequately express how they feel can be extremely challenging. Starting these conversations is one way in which the stigma that far too often goes hand in hand with experiencing mental health difficulties can be beaten. It can also be the first step for people experiencing depression to start on a meaningful journey to recovery. Let’s talk!

Mary O’Hora, Information Centre Manager at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services

Our Support and Information Line at St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services can be contacted at (01) 249 3333 or by emailing info@stpatsmail.com
Our Helpline for 18-25 year olds can be reached at (01) 249 3555 or by emailing help@walkinmyshoes.ie

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