Too often, the words "depression" and "sadness" are used interchangeably. The word "depression" is commonly used in our daily vocabulary and carries several different connotations. I do not blame people who constantly throw around the word "depressed." Their level of ignorance about mental illness is debatable and varies from person to person; however, if their intention is to communicate that they are feeling low in spirits, then they are absolutely using the correct word.
As early as the 15th century, depression has meant "dejection, depression of spirits." It wasn't until 1905 that depression began to be associated with the clinical term. According to Dictionary.com, the word, in and of itself, literally means a "reduction of vigor" or "a condition of feeling sad."
People aren't wrong to associate depression with sadness. The problem lies in mistaking mental illness with casual depression.
According to Mayo Clinic, clinical or major depression is a severe and persistent form of depression with many tangible symptoms, including irritability, disinterest, anxiety and/or reduced appetite/sleep. Whereas people can be temporarily depressed due to the death of a loved one or any significant loss, clinical depression is not as simple. You cannot pinpoint a single root cause because it has much more to do with structural changes in the brain. For more information on what causes depression, check out my article, "Depression Isn't Caused By A Lack of Serotonin." To be honest, throwing a "clinical" or "major" in front of the word does not distinguish it enough from the temporary and mild episodes of sadness that we experience from time to time. It does not solve the issue but only serves to make it persist.
As awareness about mental health continues to increase and we move away from the stigma, we are more conscious of the difference. People aren't so ignorant to not understand the difference between mood and mental illness. Yet, this process would be so much easier and quicker if the word wasn't so confusing.
Depression. It can mean anything. When someone says, "I'm depressed," what does that even mean anymore? Are you supposed to think that they are referring to their emotions or major depressive disorder? Logically speaking, no one in a casual conversation will typically say, "I have the major depressive disorder." For those who struggle with mental health, the words depressed and depression carry a serious and often, a single meaning.
For example, in August of 2016, the hashtag #IGetDepressedWhen started trending on Twitter. Many people took the opportunity to tweet about silly and — what they considered — harmless inconveniences. On the contrary, others who felt that the word was being trivialized used the platform to discuss the ignorance floating around about mental illness. Tweets ranged from "#IGetDepressedWhen I open my paycheck" to "#IGetDepressedWhen people can't comprehend that depression is a mental illness that people struggle with & not a feeling."
Here's the thing. There are many people out there who still don't get the difference. There are also many who do get the difference but continue to use the word "depressed" for its literal meaning. Should that mean they are just as ignorant?
I beg to differ.
I think the ignorance lies in the word itself. Why is a clinical condition named after such a commonly experienced emotion in the first place? Yes, clinical depression does have to do with severe levels of sadness and worthlessness but referring it to as such only makes it prone to more misconceptions. People continue to believe that it is just sadness — with no physical symptoms.
I think it is safe to say that more people recognize the difference between stress and anxiety compared to depression versus clinical depression. The two deal with different mental illnesses, yet it is easier to perceive anxiety disorder. Why? The simplified reason is that its term is separate from the emotion it could be confused with.
Stress is usually a result of an external trigger, and anxiety is a result of extreme stress. Anxiety is clearly associated with panic attacks, overwhelming fear, and lingering feelings of worry and helplessness.
It's far easier to distinguish between two entirely different concepts when two separate and concrete terms exist. When the distinction is blurry, people often don't know where to draw the line. When you have sadness viewed as a spectrum, one end referring to the mood and the other, a mental illness, it becomes confusing as to whether people who use the word are implying casual or serious depression. Confusion perpetuates misconceptions, and sadly, misconceptions perpetuate ignorance.