Mental health conditions, Stigma, Personal stories

07 April, 2017

Depression – Misunderstood

It's time to talk about depression: to have open and honest conversations about what depression is and its impact for people and society.

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?

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

Recognising what depression means

Recognising what depression means

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 as 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.

Starting honest conversations

Starting honest conversations

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.

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!


Putting an end to stigma

Putting an end to stigma

#StillJustMe is a campaign to break down stigma around mental health difficulties like depression.

Get involved in #StillJustMe here.