The societal ruin of the term ‘depression’ and other hurtful comments about mental illness

shutterstock_381876286Gillian Marchenko is serving as our guest blogger this Spring. Her new book, Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression publishes in May and her work has appeared in numerous publications including Chicago Parent, Today’s Christian Woman, Literary Mama, Thriving Family, and MomSense Magazine. Her first book, Sun Shine Down, was published in 2013. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Sergei and their four daughters. Connect with her at her Facebook page

As a person diagnosed with major depressive disorder, I think society has ruined words that describe “mental illness.”

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI):

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year
  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S…the third leading cause of death for people aged 10–24 and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15–24. Click here for more statistics on suicide.
  • If untreated – and all too often when treated – mental illness can result in death.

shutterstock_382636453People don’t take mental illness seriously. Many use inaccurate terms in conversations about mental illness. If a person is down, they are “depressed.” That makes it hard for those of us battling actual mental illness because of those identifying with an occasional bout of sadness, an off day, or downheartedness.

Now, I’m not diminishing sadness, an off day, or downheartedness. Life is hard. Reoccurring pain exists. And I’m not downplaying difficult life situations. Things occur in our lives that can bring a person to the point of serious depression. I’m not a psychiatrist, but in my limited knowledge, I’ve learned that situational depression (depression that typically ensues because of serious ‘situations’ in peoples’ lives; death, divorce, etc. instead of brain wiring) exists, and I’ve learned that it can be just as serious as any other mental illness diagnosis. Situational depression can be just as difficult to heal as well.

But I’m talking about people who throw around comments like “I’m depressed,” or “that person is crazy,” or even “he is six french fries short of a happy meal.” I’m talking about people who mock persons with mental illness or claim illnesses for themselves without having been diagnosed.

Amy Simpson, a champion in the fight to abolish the stigma of mental illness and author of Troubled Minds and Anxious addresses this in her blog post, 10 Ways Mental Illness is Stigmatized in Our Culture:

We regularly watch TV shows and movies that treat mental illness, and people who have such illnesses, as one big joke.

This has to stop. Casual, hurtful comments, whether jokes or false identification, downplay the seriousness and stigma of mental illness.

Tennis BallsHere’s an example: If you play tennis with sadness and the ball comes at you and you are able to lob it back to where it came from, you probably aren’t clinically depressed. Now, if a hundred tennis balls are pelting you at a mile a minute and you are crouched down, arms up protecting your face, turning away from the balls but feeling every whack, then your sadness may be a symptom of depression.

The other danger of misusing words about mental illness is the tendency for the person with the actual diagnosis to think they might be blowing their symptoms out of proportion. If everyone thinks of depression as “a bad day” that can be overcome without significant help (medication, therapy, community acknowledgement and social, spiritual, and tangible assistance), then why can’t we?

Again, the short answer is this: depression and other diagnoses are illnesses. Serious, life altering, and often jarring illnesses that turn the lives of the individual and those who love them up side down.

So please, watch what you say. Don’t joke about people who are “crazy.” You never know if the person you are talking about is battling mental illness in their life.


Gillian2014-26-Edit-1In Still Life,  Gillian Marchenko continues her description of depression: “I must keep still. Otherwise I will plunge to my death. ‘Please God, take this away,’ I pray when I can.”

For Gillian, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In these pages she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.

Still Life is available here for pre-order from IVP Press.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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