Depression and Work
A couple of weeks have gone by since I saw this article in response to the airline crash in Europe.
Germanwings crash: Seven in ten bosses do not think mental illness merits time off work
I’ve been struggling to figure out what, exactly, I wanted to say about this, but I knew I wanted to say something. The problem is, even as I agree with the premise that mental health stigma prevents many people from taking some time off to deal with depression in the same way they would if they had surgery, or kidney stones, or some other physical ailment, I am also keenly aware of something else about depression that I couldn’t quite put into words.
Then I saw another article about continuing to work with depression and what I was struggling with became much clearer. Read the entire thing, it’s very interesting, but this is the part that really stopped me in my tracks:
First, we throw around the word depression too much, and it’s not specific enough to encompass everything we use it for. Someone who is mildly depressed is far different from someone who is contemplating suicide, yet we use the same word to describe both situations. I know I throw that word “depressed” around a lot very casually and I’m going to think more before using it.
That’s what I’d been struggling with when thinking about how to talk about mental health and the workplace, the fact that what we call “depression” much of the time, isn’t. Yeah, if I look at what people commonly refer to as depression, I’d be pretty hesitant to let people have time off from work to deal with it too.
In short, your favorite team losing an important game may make you sad, or be disappointing, but it’s not depression. Missing a friend or loved one, missing out on a concert, having a favorite TV show cancelled, or favorite character from the show killed off, getting a rude barista at Starbucks that morning; also not depression. Can we just stop referring to every personal slight, or sadness, as “depression”? It’s no wonder society and the media don’t take depression seriously as an illness when everyone whines about how “depressing” their life is because they didn’t have a date that weekend. That is not depression, that is you feeling sorry for yourself. It is not the same thing at all and comparing that to someone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts and struggling every day just to stay alive is offensive! Seriously, just stop it.
If we aren’t willing to confront this misuse of the word depression, how can we call for change in the world around us? Until we stop defining depression as anything but a mental health disorder, we can hardly expect anyone else to stop stigmatizing those who are suffering from it. I know I’m going to be very careful from now on when I use the word myself, I hope you will join me in doing the same, and encourage others to as well.