Jan 28, 2009

a depression by any other name...

I read this thought provoking post today from Neuroskeptic and it piqued my interest. In the post, he talks about the term "depression" and how people often equate this with feeling "sad".

This got me thinking, the term "depression" does no favours for those of us living with it. Even with the term "clinical" tacked in front of it, it sounds just too...mundane.

There aren't many diseases where the suffering is so great that many people will choose to end their lives rather than cope with the pain. With any other life-threatening disease, people would be sympathetic, concerned about the sufferer.

I'm going to pose a hypothetical example, (not from personal experience) - so if you think I've got it all wrong - by all means correct me.

Say you go to ER with symptoms of a heart attack or stroke - I think you will likely fly pass triage as you are scooted straight into the concerned care of the medical team. Provided you are not obnoxious and, (in US) have insurance, you will not be made to feel like an imposition. You will have made the right choice!

On the other hand, suppose you present to the ER with severe depression feeling suicidal. You will likely sit in the waiting room for hours, it will be debated as to whether or not you have a 'true' emergency. You might get further if you actually attempted suicide, but if you're just thinking about it... surely you can wait until morning to see your family doctor!

So I wonder, would it make a difference if we could re-name and re-conceptualize depression as something that the average person can't relate to? Something more than feeling sad?

How about "Necrotizing-Affectitis"? Would that buy some empathy?

People can be so kind to a person with a broken leg (provided they didn't break it while under the influence). But try telling folks that you've had depression and see what happens.

Depression is not a normal, everyday emotion! From my experience, it is a bit like turning the contrast down on your TV set. Suddenly, everything looks dark and dreary. Physically, the fatigue feels like you are carrying an invisible backpack full of lead. It feels like there is no point going on and being a burden to those around you.

Is it possible that people would be more compassionate if the diagnosis sounded a bit more... severe?


  1. One of the myths about depression that your average person just doesn't get is that it's purely a mood thing, as you say, persistent sadness. It's also hugely cognitive and very physical as well. People with severe depression cannot process information very well, have memory issues, cannot focus or concentrate, are easily confused...and the list goes on...I should totally do a post about this...

  2. Nice article. very interesting, thanks for sharing.