We can read what depression is; its clinical diagnosis, different types, classifications and severity; its effect on our mood, physiology, behaviour, emotions, feelings, sometimes our physical health too, self-esteem, worth, confidence, capacity and interest for enjoying life; its association with self-harm, end of life thoughts and actions, and so on.
Although everyone’s experience will be different, certain traits, affects, and clusters of symptoms help clinical diagnoses. Yet, when someone shares they are, or have been, depressed, what does that mean exactly? What does depression feel like? What’s the experience? How do we know then, when, or if, we are, or getting, depressed?
Quite rightly, mental health has become a hot topic. Campaigns, multi-media coverage, including personal stories, maintain the momentum and encourage talking, sharing, speaking up etc if we’re struggling. Let’s remember though, sometimes just being with someone, without words, can be supportive too. Yet, does the increased use, potential mainstreaming and familiarity of mental ill-health language perhaps dilute depression’s meaning and then lessen its seriousness?
A clinical diagnosis of depression – a mood disorder - is serious. It is an illness. It requires treatment, just like physical illnesses do. Its clinical definition and diagnosis are very different to meaning often used in everyday language ie it is much more than feeling sad, down, low or miserable.
But when is it more than these words? When’s the time to seek help? How to articulate or express how we feel? I struggled with that years ago. For years I sensed I ‘wasn’t OK’, but how to explain that?! I didn’t know I was experiencing [clinical] depression. I felt those words, including failure, but it became more than that. There were signs – physiological, behavioural, emotional, physical, psychological – but they were unnoticed. Only later, when my doctor asked certain questions, did I realise any significance.
The words and language we use, our thoughts, emotions, feelings, self-talk, personality, mood, character, temperament, behaviour, body language, habits ‘speak’ volumes. If only we listened. If only I’d listened. If I’d known some of the traits, the ‘signs’, I may have sought help earlier. More signs were when I became ambivalent to life, and turned ‘I don’t want to be here’ thoughts into actions. I ignored those too.
Yet, just like any physical illness, with treatment, in my case a combination of medication and talking therapy, many recover. Knowing recovery, like mine, can happen or is managed on a long-term basis, as recovery doesn’t always mean being symptom-free, may also reduce fear.
So what are the take-aways?
· Depression is a serious illness.
· Recognise the signs, get help and support sooner rather than later.
· Express and articulate yourself in any way you can especially when words are not enough to convey the depth of feeling/emotion.
· Just like physical illnesses, depression is treatable, recoverable, manageable. People recover or manage long-term depression with appropriate treatment, sometimes workplace adjustments, and can live well with it.
· If someone shares they have been diagnosed, struggling or live with depression, have compassion. It’s not just words.
Text by Sylvia Bruce
Preview Image by Grace Madeline