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Updated: May 12, 2022

“I feel so depressed today”

"This conversation is making me feel depressed”

“That movie is so depressing”

We have often heard people say things like these and we ourselves might even be guilty of using such phrases in our everyday language.

We might not mean any harm when we use terms like ‘depression’ as a figure of speech, But, the use of mental disorders as adjectives can be insensitive and inaccurate.

  • When one uses such terms in mere conversation, it takes away the importance of those who actually have the diagnosis of depression.

  • It also reflects a lack of understanding of the challenges that those with depression really face.

  • Speaking about depression in casual terms can also be triggering for people managing this condition.

  • By using depression as a figure of speech, we diminish someone’s reality.

  • Depression is a very real illness, and it is more than just being ‘sad’.

Moreover, using depression as an adjective increases the stigma associated with it.

In a world where mental health is already stigmatised, using such language oversimplifies the disorder and takes away its seriousness from them.

It’s important to remember what words like ‘depression’ truly mean and how people are affected when one uses it in casual terms.

While we’ve seen that the usage of ‘depression’ as an adjective is wrong, let us understand what really is depression?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Major Depressive Disorder or Clinical Depression is a serious mood disorder. It consists of clearly outlined symptoms and criteria to meet a clinical diagnosis.

Five or more of the below symptoms should be present for at least 2-weeks:

  1. Feeling helpless, sad, empty for most of the day

  2. Reduced or no interest in all or most activities of the day

(At least one of the above two are necessary for a clinical diagnosis)

  1. Major weight loss, or weight gain and a decrease or increase in appetite

  2. Persistent problems in sleeping - either sleeping too little or too much

  3. Slowing down mentally and physically, or increased restlessness, which is noticed by others

  4. Loss of energy almost every day

  5. Feelings of excessive guilt and worthlessness

  6. Reduced ability to make decisions and concentrate

  7. Having constant thoughts of death, thinking about suicide with and without specific planning

What is most important is that the symptoms cause major discomfort and suffering for the person in their personal and professional lives.

Now that we have seen what a clinical diagnosis of depression actually entails, let us look at some ways in which we can be sensitive in the use of our language.

  • Don’t use depression as an adjective!! Recognise that it is a complex condition and is more than being 'sad'.

  • Instead of using ‘depression’ as a figure of speech, use words such as feeling ‘sad’, ‘low’, ‘miserable’, ‘heartbroken, ‘helpless’, ‘joyless’, ‘under the weather’ and so many more!

  • Do not use words like ‘crazy’, ‘abnormal’ or ‘insane’ when speaking about those who struggle with their mental health. Use kind words towards them.

  • Do not identify the person as their diagnosis, they are whole person with more than that. For example, saying “A person with depression” and not “A depressed person”.

  • Do not undermine their experience by saying things such as, “get over it” or, “this happens with everyone”. Empathise with them and support them in every possible way you can.

  • Be very careful when talking about suicide. Use language such as “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide”.

Being mindful of your language is the one simple thing you can do to be more sensitive and decrease the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

All it takes is a few seconds to pause and reflect before choosing your words.

Written By - Mehek Rohira (Psychotherapist at The Mood Space)

Book your first session today, take a step towards better mental health.

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