“Depression is something that everyone faces in their life,” I heard the statement at two places where an attempt was being made to initiate a conversation on mental health. One was at the Mental Health Festival organized by the Mental Health Foundation of India on 10th October 2018. The second occurrence was when my department, the Department of Applied Psychology was organising an event on depression, in college. It was the college principal who proudly claimed that we need to talk about depression because it happens to everyone in their life. But does it? Well, it depends on your understanding of depression, whether you think it is a mood or know that it is an illness.
Why is it that it is often at the places where awareness about mental illnesses should be accurate? It is because in order to make the issue more relatable, many of us (mental health activists) end up sensationalising the issue to solicit more support. It seems like a good idea to make people think that everyone has to make them listen to what we have to say but the fact remains that it is not true. We should not be resorting to falsehoods in order to get our message across.
As I have said before, whether or not depression happens to everyone depends on your level of understanding of the same. People use the word ‘depression’ so generally that it has actually been misappropriated as a mood. Feeling low, unmotivated or lethargic is a part of life but this feeling has been called depression by many. Does everyone have this mood we call depression at some point in their life? Yes. But it’s important to know the difference.
Depression symptoms are these moods of isolation and sadness persisting for more than 2 weeks. People often feel low but if they feel the same way for 2 weeks without respite, then the layman can say that they have depression symptoms. Does everyone have depression symptoms at some point in their life? Not necessarily.
Depressive disorder/major depressive disorder/ clinical depression is when a licensed psychiatrist diagnoses the same in a person based on their professional opinion. This condition should ideally be called depression and nothing else, but since we live in times when the word has already lost a lot of its meaning, we resort to terms like ‘clinical depression’ etc.
It is important that we clarify whenever we are telling them what we mean when we say the opening sentence of this article. The frequency with which I hear the sentence or something similar is often frightening because it displays a sense of either insincerity or ignorance on part of the person saying it. I understand and agree that we need to make people talk more about mental health but it is important that we don’t scare-monger people into doing so.