How To Talk About Depression

This is how we should talk about Depression

black dog Cambridge depression

The word ‘depression’ is bandied around all the time.

People often use it to describe being sad for a long time, but this is different to clinical depression. How can we understand the nuances when this distinction can be so subtle?

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We use Depression so much it’s hard to talk about actually being Depressed

When I’m having a bad brain day, it affects my ability to meet up with a friend; do an essay; get through the reading and whatever else I’m supposed to do during the whirlwind of term here. All of which seem to result in having to explain myself or discuss “what’s been going on” to people who often don’t get it.

For me, this reflects how poor the language that we use to describe depression is: while a doctor or counsellor is used to jargon like ‘impaired function with fatigue’ and ‘diminished appetite’, your average friend isn’t.

I've given this out to all my friends

I’ve given this out to all my friends

There’s no good reason not to get it though, other than the fact that we aren’t ever exposed to it as a society. To illustrate, here is an easy-to-read side of A4 that defines depression for you

I hope you’ve read that if you’re going to continue. Please say you’ve at least glanced at it because if you haven’t you’ve basically made my point for me. Is it up to a person with a mental illness to explain and describe the ins and outs of their experience to every person who asks why; “you look like shit”/ “you disappeared”/ “your essay is disappointing this week”?

Depression's a tough excuse in as stressful a place as Cambridge

Depression’s a tough excuse in as stressful a place as Cambridge

The weird thing is, I don’t have an answer to that.

I don’t always want to explain, but sometimes I do have the strength to have that conversation. And then I feel better, because I managed to #smashthestigma and openly talk about a mental illness. But goddamn sometimes I fucking wish there were some sort of shorthand that people just understood.

It’s hard to get something that you haven’t personally experienced, especially when it can’t really be rationally explained. So to start off 2015 I’d like to explain my two favourite metaphors and analogies for mental illness in the hope that they either

a) help you understand what your friend is going through that bit better

b) show that you aren’t alone and enable you to explain what the actual fuck is going on in your head.

1) The Black Dog

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A common metaphor used to explain depression in a more visual and therefore supposedly accessible way. It’s been used throughout the ages, but this video explains the “equal opportunity mongrel” more clearly than I can. One of my friend’s credits finding this metaphor for saving her life, and for that I will eternally be in its debt.

2) Spoon Theory

You only have so many

You only have so many

Coined by a woman with lupus who tried to explain the cost of everyday living to her friend, and it somehow also works for depression and other chronic illnesses. The idea is that you wake up every day with a certain number of spoons, which represent here a tangible unit of energy that you expend in doing stuff. Healthy people don’t notice they have spoons because they have this magical infinite supply, in contrast, someone with lupus or depression only has so many per day, sometimes it will be 34, sometimes 7. While you can borrow spoons from tomorrow to get through today, you pay the cost later. The original blog post can be found here

So yeah.

When I told a friend that I wanted to write an article on the Language of Depression she said “Depression is a bitch. What more can you even say?” And I will leave you with that.

This article is written in collaboration with This Space, a submissions-based blog dedicated to mental health and reducing stigma surrounding the topic. You can check them out here, and if you’d like to submit, please email [email protected].