“I still haven’t found the right dress for the party, and I am super depressed about it.”
“Oh my gosh! That is so depressing! We should totally go shopping tomorrow, then!”
Does this exchange sound familiar? You have probably heard something close to it while waiting for the train, or maybe while in line for your morning coffee. This new generation of millennials has become so comfortable with blanket exaggerations, including the misuse of the term (or rather, the diagnosis) depression.
If you were to open up a magazine targeted at young teens today, you would find a disturbing peppering of exaggerative phrases that are actually clinical diagnoses. These clinical terms were never intended to be folded into the lexicon of emotional descriptives that are now being used at an alarming level in contemporary culture.
Because millennials prefer to use coded language from text exchanges to communicate, many young people have decreased their vocabulary proficiency and usage. This is especially prevalent in the subset of language used to describe emotions. There seems to be a severe learning gap in the world of emotion identification and appropriate emotional language usage.
The temptation to exaggerate and dramatize one’s emotional state is all too common among this new generation. It should come as no surprise that, as accurate emotional language usage in teens has declined, depression and anxiety diagnoses in that same age demographic have increased.
It is interesting to observe the current contradiction in our culture. We have come far in the quest to destigmatize mental health issues. You can turn on any television or tablet and see commercials for medications used to treat anxiety, depression, and other related mental health issues.
This is proof of how we, as a culture, have moved beyond the days of mass institutionalization for mental health patients. This progress is significant, important, necessary, and lifesaving for many patients.
But at the same time, you can also turn on any television or tablet and see scripted teenaged characters using phrases like, “This day is so depressing,” or “Why are you making me so anxious right now?” While the incorporation of this language into scripted television is a win all by itself, the incorrect usage of clinical terms like depression and anxiety is problematic.
“Depression” and “anxiety” have become umbrella terms for a wide range of emotions. In college coffee shops all across America, it is common to hear “I’m so depressed” spoken by a fully functional, socially engaged young person.
What they mean to say could range from “I’m tired,” “I feel sad,” “I’m disappointed,” or most likely, “I don’t understand exactly what I am feeling right now.” But it is much easier for them to get the point across by saying, “I’m depressed.”
In turn, this umbrella term usage diminishes the experience and everyday struggles of the 17.3 million people who are actually living with clinical depression in the United States. (Source: 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health)
The invention of various social media platforms brought about an unprecedented wave of clinical diagnoses in the young adult demographic in the early 2000s as many impressionable and vulnerable minds struggled to survive in the new comparative climate at their fingertips.
Along with this overwhelming wave, however, came many successful media campaigns that helped to destigmatize mental health disorders. Because of those efforts, young adults now have access to unlimited online supportive resources and communities.
So, why is this trend of misusing clinical terms still thriving? Shouldn’t emotional language literacy improve with an increase in accessible educational resources? It is possible that, as we incorporated mental health language into our social jargon, the weight and meaning of the words themselves dissipated?
While it is great that social-emotional learning and emotional language are being incorporated into some public education curriculums, we must hold our students, family members, and coworkers accountable for choosing words with sensitivity and responsibility.
Let’s get as clear as possible. What is depression, and what can you do to help someone in your life who might be struggling with depression? According to Harvard Medical School, it’s a unique combination of many factors.
Research suggests that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression. (Harvard Health Publishing, June 2019)
Identifying the symptoms and signs of depression is an evolving process, as every person struggling with clinical depression is different because of their life experiences and environment. However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms below on a regular basis, you may benefit from seeing a professional counselor to get more information and support.
Common Signs of Depression
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating or remembering
- Loss of appetite
- Aches and pains that won’t go away
Living with signs of depression is no easy task. Patients often struggle just to get out of bed in the morning and into the shower. Sometimes, people suffering from signs of depression will detach from their social groups and loving relationships. It is a daily struggle to just be functional.
Most people with depression also struggle to take their medications regularly over the long term. The weight of the world always seems to be on the shoulders of a patient with depression. It can be completely debilitating, and unfortunately, life-threatening if the patient is not addressing their circumstances.
Treatment for Depression
While there is no cure for depression, there are treatment programs that can help patients to live fully functional lives that are vibrant and joyful. If you or your loved ones are struggling with depression, the best choice is to seek professional help. Admitting you are struggling, and asking for help can be incredibly hard. But these first steps can save your life.
Talk therapy with a depression counselor can be the best support for your life. In the safe space of therapy, you will be able to find relief in the form of trust, tools, and clinical support if needed. Depression treatment is mostly focused on mood regulation, which starts in the brain. Not all medications are created equal, and each has its own set of side effects.
If you are working with a psychiatrist, you will be able to find the best drug therapy treatment plan for your symptoms. It may take time, but it will change your life for the better. With the help and support of a professional care team, patients can learn how to live well with depression instead of exhaustively fighting against it.
After considering all of the information above, it is easy to see that depression is not something to be taken lightly. It is not a word to be thrown around insensitively to describe one’s feelings about shopping dilemmas.
Depression is a serious clinical diagnosis that has lifelong effects. Depression is not an outside-in experience. Trivial external factors do not trigger a “moment” of depression or a “day” of depression. It is a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year journey.
We must all do our best to be responsible when using a word like depression. We must act out of understanding and compassion. We must always be open to the possibility that the people in our lives might be truly struggling.
We must know the signs of depression, act as a refuge of compassion, and not be afraid to encourage the people we care about to get the help they need. Depression can seem impossible to live with, but with professional counseling, treatment, and community, it can get a little easier every day.
“Grief”, Courtesy of Kat Jayne, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Dock”, Courtesy of Keenan Constance, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Chat”, Courtesy of Jopwell, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Campfire Chat”, Courtesy of VisionPic.net, Pexels.com, CC0 License