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It’s a big pet peeve of mine when people use mental health conditions or terminology as shorthand to describe how they’re feeling. Like when someone says, “I’m totally OCD!” when talking about how they like things organized or, “I’m so ADHD,” because they feel a bit restless.
I get it. Sometimes we all use terms colloquially in a way that means something different to their literal definition, and I’m mostly OK with that. The problem is that when it comes to mental health especially, many people don’t understand what the condition really is and how it affects people. These little throw-away comments can add to the larger (and more dangerous) stigma surrounding mental health.
This part is what really frustrates me: there is still so much misunderstanding about what depression is and how significantly it can impact someone — at best, some think that depression is just being down in the dumps; at worst, they think it’s a moral or character flaw.
To help with that, let’s talk quickly about what depression is not so we can get on the same page and I don’t have to be so grouchy.
Are you feeling a little down because your favorite team lost a game? Did your in-laws get on your nerves at dinner last night? Did you get passed over for a job you really wanted? I totally understand how those situations can be frustrating, and can sour your mood. Everyone has life situations that annoy them, but that is not depression. Feeling a little low over specific circumstances is usually temporary, and you’ll get over it before long. Depression lasts at least two weeks (and sometimes longer than that) and can be more difficult to move on from.
Sometimes we all just need a little quiet time. Some people just don’t like to be around big groups, and that’s OK. There are many reasons people avoid socializing with others, some of them being completely unrelated to mental health issues. If someone is a little less social than usual, they may just need some time to themselves. That doesn’t mean they are depressed.
Life hands us many beautiful and wonderful things. Sometimes it hands us challenges, too. When those challenges come, it is normal to feel disappointed. A big part of being disappointed is the sadness that accompanies that disappointment. Disappointment and depression are not synonymous, but they’re frequently used that way.
Sometimes we have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. When those days come, we may feel pretty exasperated. Sadness and gloom hang over our heads like rain clouds. But you know what? If something equally awesome happens, it can lift our moods. And that is nothing like depression. Depression sticks around, even when you really, desperately want it to go away.
There is nothing glamorous or cool about depression. So often mental illness seems to be romanticized in popular culture, and it ignores the very real and intensely difficult parts of what living with depression is like. Having depression is nothing to be ashamed of, but this idea that there is something admirable in being depressed needs to go.
There are a lot of different ways we can express ourselves that don’t include making false comparisons to mental health. It is time for us to be more careful with the language we use. Sadness is sadness. Depression is depression. Now that you know the difference, you can do the right thing.
For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.