What is depression?
Depression is a mental state characterized by extreme feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness, and low self-esteem, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as loss of appetite and energy; the negative mood is out of proportion to any actual event or condition that may have precipitated it.
(Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology)
One thing that has struck me often is that the word depression (like that other over-used term, stress) is a very imprecise term. To deal more effectively with our mental states, we have to be able to make fairly precise distinctions – and “depression” is pretty vague categorization. “Depression” encompasses such diverse states as sadness, anxiety, guilt, lethargy, despair, etc.
It might not seem much of an advance to move from talking about “depression” to saying that you feel “despondent” and “worthless,” but the more precise the description of the mental state, then the easier it’s going to be to do something about it (“easier” of course being a relative term).
It’s a bit like if you went to the doctor and he said, “Ah, yes, your problem is that you’re ill.” That diagnosis would be accurate, but not precise enough to be helpful. Just as the treatment for a cold is going to be different from that for food-poisoning, the way to work with anxiety is not the same as the way to work with sadness; although both can be what people mean when they say they are “depressed.”
I’m not suggesting, by the way, that a particular “depressed” person will not experience a wide range of emotions! Any depressed person will experience a variety of states. But this relates to another observation: if the category of “depression” is used in a very indiscriminate way (i.e. the particular mental state is not more precisely identified) then the sufferer can have the impression that his/her mood is unchanging and fixed, when in fact it might be have shifted somewhat from despair to sadness. That feeling of being stuck can be deeply frightening and demoralizing, helping to deepen any existing depression.
On the rare occasions that I have been “depressed,” one of the most distressing elements has been the feeling of being stuck in a mood from which I will never escape. This seems to be a common feature of depression. I think that realizing that one’s mood is in fact changing, fluid, and dynamic – rather than fixed and static – is likely to be helpful. But if we don’t probe to identify our mental states more specifically, then we won’t see the finer gradations.
If you tell yourself that you feel “depressed,” then you won’t know what’s really going on. Try to make finer distinctions in describing your mental states.