Semantics: Depression vs. Sadness

It’s not uncommon to ask a friend how she’s doing and have her response be, "Depressed." She’s probably sad or down, but not actually depressed. This same sort of thing happens with migraines. If someone has a bad headache, he’ll call it a migraine, even if it’s not.

Popular word choices can make understanding and recognizing actual diseases difficult. If Joe can pop a Tylenol and wipe out his "migraine," then maybe the rest of us are just whiners. Similarly, the common use of "depression" as a synonym for "sadness" makes it hard to know if you’re in a funk or struggling with clinical depression.

So that’s why I chose "sadness" instead of "depression" in yesterday’s post. Yes, I’m being nitpicky, but with good reason. Chronic headache and depression often occur together because they involve the same brain chemistry. Your docs don’t (necessarily) think you’re "hysterical" when they prescribe anti-depressants, but are targeting serotonin to treat your headaches. And, you may be depressed as well as in pain because the same brain chemistry is under attack.

Much more on this later. I’m off to catch a plane. My internet access will be spotty the rest of the week, but I’ll be posting and checking e-mail as often as I can.

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One Response to “Semantics: Depression vs. Sadness”

  1. Franco Says:

    Dear Soul,

    I agree wholeheartedly that the use of semantics in our headache jargon is extremely important. Yes, it’s not to be taken lightly. As I am all for increasing our understanding of this disease—migraine, the terminology we use even as lay people is so important.

    In your recent chapter on Sadness, I commented on it. I referred both to sadness and Depression in my reflections. The sadness is what I had dealt with for most of my adult life, as a result of feeling I was always at a loss or always had to make an extra effort in everything I did, in order to cope with the headache. In other words, I had to put out more than the average person—even though I don’t consider myself by any means an ignoramus—and in this there was a sadness.

    I believe stark clinical depression set in for me after the exacerbation, when the pain intensified and the headache changed location slightly now effecting not only the left “periorbital” region, but also the left temple area. I can date this exacerbation back to exactly November 2, 2001. It was around the time the whole world was coming apart after the 911 tragedy. I was strangely comforted that thousands upon thousands of people were concurrently mourning with me during that time, even as my own personal world was falling apart. And I struggled to hang on for dear life.
    I find myself a survivor today in 2005, though still dealing with the aftermath effects of that terrible disastor of a lifetime. I am scarred by unprofessional treatment by veritable American institutions of hope and healing, trying to regain my faith in said institutions. After struggling with headache during all of my adult life and then some, I thought I was devastated to think that in mid-life I am still dealing with it, now worse than ever!

    But there is allot of truth in the old adage, corny as it may be, “Where there is life there is hope.” If there is hope for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center building and then some, how much more hope for this being created in the image of God. Therein lies my hope.

    I hope it will not be many years when I can report I really do not believe I am dealing with a clinical, chemically based depression any longer. That it will dissipate and turn to the sadness and sorrow that you speak of, for the losses we have incurred. But there is nothing we can do concerning the past, and so we hold our candles brightly for the morning light.

    Now I’m off to watch a SOAP opera to help dissipate my concomittant pain and depression, strangely.

    Franco (Thom PAYNE)


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