• Sara Reeves

Why the term 'depression' shouldn’t be used to describe a bad day

If there’s one thing that has always intrigued me, its language. Language is one of the reasons why I decided to study a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing. My curiosity in the way language can flourish has always piqued in a creative environment.

Having a bilingual mother, other languages and their patterns have interested me as well. I found myself learning some French here and there, picking up the roots of the English language through words in French. I always loved that ‘langue’ in French translates to ‘tongue’, meaning that the root of the English word ‘language’ was formed from the tongue and much of spoken word is formed with the tongue.

My research into language found me at a grey area, however. I found that I began curating my own language use, and realised phrases that I hated more than anything. The one sentence that has always made my eye twitch: “I’m so depressed.”

While statistics may vary, the World Health Organisation found in January of 2020, more than 264 MILLION people suffer from depression. That’s 264 million people coming from all age groups, all walks of life. Statistically, that’s 1 in 29 people.

While the word ‘depression’ is just a word, and can be used for finance, geography or meteorology, I’ve found that every time someone uses it for its direct definition, being ‘feelings of severe despondency and dejection’, they’re using it for the most blasé of reasons.

The number of times I’ve heard someone who didn’t get tickets to a concert, or didn’t get a great mark for a test they didn’t study for hit their friends with “I’m so depressed” is appalling to me. While I’m sure many would disagree with me and believe that I’m just being ‘sensitive’ on the topic, I have always felt this language is inappropriate when not in regard to the mental illness.

Hearing someone describe themselves as ‘depressed’ for minor inconveniences as someone who has taken antidepressants for over four years of my life makes the term slowly lose its importance.

Depression as a mental condition is ‘characterised by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep’. Unless that test result or your lack of tickets is debilitating your ability to sleep, eat and speak with people, I would prefer you to use another term. ‘Sad’, maybe. ‘Annoyed’, even.

Words only hold power if we allow them to. By taking the power of the word ‘depression’ away, we are deciding that all those people who have suffered or even died from the condition are insignificant because “it’s just a word”. I can assure you it doesn’t feel like “just a word” when you can barely feel your heartbeat anymore because you’ve been spiralling for days.

Of course, changing language habits takes time. I don’t expect everyone who ever reads this to try to, or even agree with me on the subject, but I hope that it’s something you will think about. Language is alive, and is constantly evolving along with us, so what we chose to use every day does have an impact on the future of language usage. We just have to be aware of it.