What Colour Do You Feel Today?

How do you feel?

I mean, how do you really feel?

Happy? Or depressed? Or??

It seems to me that we’ve started to think that if we’re not feeling happy then we must be feeling sad. And if we’re feeling sad we must be suffering from depression. And if we’re suffering from depression we need to go to the doctor.

This bothers me.

If we think of emotions in terms of colours, with depression being black and happiness being white, there are countless shades of grey in between – and all those other colours too. And if you don’t happen to be feeling bright white right now – it doesn’t mean you have to be feeling dark black. There’s an infinite variety of feelings between the two.

If you go to your doctor and say, ‘I’m feeling depressed’, they will likely give you a sheet of multiple-choice questions to fill in. The starting point for these questions is the assumption that you are indeed depressed, that your self-diagnosis was correct – the questionaire is just designed to work out how depressed you are.

Depression is a very serious and life-destroying condition. It is very different from feeling sad, and if you suffer from it you have my deepest sympathy, you absolutely do.

What bothers me is the way it’s diagnosed – does everyone diagnosed with depression actually have it? I can’t think of any other illness where the diagnosis is based so heavily on the patient’s own assessment.

If you go to the doctor and say, ‘I think I have cancer’, they will not take you at your word. They will ask more questions. They will do a physical examination. They will send you for tests. They certainly won’t accept your self-diagnosis – and you wouldn’t want them to. There may indeed be something wrong with you, it might even be very serious, but it might not be cancer – and of course we expect our doctor to get to the root of the matter and tell us what the problem really is.

So why are we so quick to accept it when someone says they’re depressed? Why are we not treating it with the same rigour we would any other illness? Why are we so reluctant to say that what they’re going through might not be depression (and that’s not to say they’re not suffering, simply that they’re not suffering from depression).

I think part of the problem is that we don’t have the words to describe how we’re feeling. We know, inside, how we feel – but we struggle to put it into words to explain that feeling to other people. So if our mood is low, it’s easier to say ‘depressed’ than to try to really explain it.

And as soon as you take that low mood (which may or may not be depression) to the doctor and call it depression, it becomes a condition that needs to be cured. Doctors are hard-wired to try to cure us.

Depression is notoriously difficult to cure. But if you’re suffering from something else, and try to cure the depression you haven’t got, then it’s unlikely to succeed. If I told my doctor that I think I have cancer when I haven’t actually got cancer, and I then got treated for cancer, that treatment is not going to cure whatever is really wrong with me.

And there are so many other emotions.

We can feel sad, of course – but we can also feel disgruntled, or pissed off, or fed up, or devastated, or tearful, or maudlin, or angry, or worried, or fearful, or…

And we can feel happy – or chipper, or chuffed to bits, or elated, or relieved, or glad, or content, or pleased, or satisfied or…

Let’s not limit ourselves to a black and white world of emotions, where the default of ‘not happy’ is depressed and needs to be treated as a medical condition. That puts us under far too much pressure to be happy – if we’re not happy we must be ill. And happiness is a fleeting emotion at the best of times.

Our emotions are complex, nuanced, hard to explain. Some emotions are difficult to cope with – guilt, anger, jealousy, bereavement, feeling lonely, feeling bored, feeling not good enough, feeling put upon. I’m sure you can think of more. But they are nevertheless normal and natural human emotions – they need to be acknowledged, dealt with, but not necessarily medicalised.

They’re not depression – so, logically, treating them as depression won’t make them go away. Ironically, not treating them at all may lead to them morphing into depression – but that’s a different matter entirely.

As I said at the beginning of this post, if you are suffering from depression you have my deepest sympathy. My concern is that people think that they are depressed but really they might not be.

And that means they’re not getting the help that they really need, to deal with the emotions that they really feel – they’re just getting pills to treat an illness that they don’t have.

Mental health is something I think about a lot – you might want to look at my previous posts – It’s OK to be Happy and It’s Still OK to be Happy.

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. Sarah says:

    You make some very good points, our emotions are not black and white.

    For the last few weeks, I have been feeling flat & hollow, more recently tearful – this is being put down to unsettled sleep for a couple of weeks.

    I can understand if you have never had depression you could mistake how I’m feeling as depression. Having been in the grips of depression in the past I know this isn’t, it could slip that way but it isn’t going to.

    I have already started to put a few things in place to support myself. I want to address the broken sleep which is I feel is either the cause or a major contributor. Normally once I’m asleep nothing wakes me until the morning.

    We all need to accept we have a whole spectrum of emotions and they are all valid.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much for your reply. And well done on being aware of your own emotional well-being and putting things in place to sort things out. xx


  3. anglosvizzera says:

    Having had experience of a close teenage family member being diagnosed with depression, and the dreadful (almost fatal) consequences of the medications that were prescribed, it concerns me greatly that ‘depression’ is diagnosed so often, especially for young people who are more prone to the serious adverse effects of antidepressants.

    I have done a lot of reading about the subject and discovered that the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the ‘bible’ used to diagnose psychiatric disorders has morphed into something vastly bigger over the years, and changed the diagnostic criteria to make depression far more likely to be diagnosed. For example, the length of time that someone has felt ‘low’ has gradually changed from 6 months to a couple of weeks over each updated version of the DSM!

    As for the questionnaire – a couple of great books explaining how it was conceived are “Cracked” by James Davis PhD (a co-founder of the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry based in London) and, in a more amusing, but equally shocking, style, “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson. I think everyone should read them!! It is clear from what they say, as you point out, that it is not designed to show whether or not someone is actually depressed at all.

    Another thing that is starting to work its way into the psychiatric field is how micronutrient deficiencies can affect the mind – for example, a lack of magnesium (which is considered rife these days by certified nutritionists, Functional Medicine practitioners etc) can lead to difficulty in coping with stressful situations and increased anxiety levels, but in a cruel twist, being in those situations ‘uses up’ more magnesium in the body creating even more of a deficiency! So it’s a vicious spiral…

    A low-fat diet is also now thought to contribute to low mood, because the brain is our fattiest organ and through the low-fat dietary advice over the past few decades, is being starved of those ‘essential fatty acids’ that need to come from diet as the body cannot produce them, hence “essential”. The brain also contains 25% of the body’s cholesterol…for very good reason!

    At this time of year, most of us will have low ‘vitamin’ D levels too – even if we’ve built up enough reserved throughout the summer from sun exposure (difficult if you’re at work during the week and not able to get 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight over lunch time), the half-life of vitamin D is 30 days (ie the amount of stored vitamin D in the body will decrease by half after 30 days) and from October to April the sun in the UK is too weak to produce vitamin D in the skin. Low vitamin D levels are another cause of low mood (and poor immunity, which is partly why we are more susceptible to infections in the winter – doubly so, as low mood can affect the immune system too.)

    In the past I suppose we had to get used to things that may have caused us to feel low – not achieving things like exam results we’d expected, not winning in our school sports day, having to deal with bereavement (maybe pets rather than people) – but now children seem to be ‘rewarded’ for just taking part in things, or rewarded for not getting what they wanted or expected, and being led to believe that we (or our pets) can all be ‘saved’ from death by the wonders of medicine. I know of people who give their other children a present on their sibling’s birthday just so they don’t feel ‘left out’!! What’s that all about?

    Anyway, great post as usual – sorry, set me off on a bit of a rant again!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rant away!!! It really is a very complicated subject – and we tend to want quick fixes these days. I agree resilience is important (my first husband used to say that you only let kids have pets so they can get used to things dying).
    And yes, when you read about the side-effects of the anti-depressants, you begin to wonder if the cure isn’t worse than the complaint. I think that’s why I feel it’s so important that we help the not-depressed, without treating them for depression.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. SisterStay says:

    What I really admire is the new preventative approach of some doctors in prescribing gardening or dancing or getting / walking a dog before trying drugs. I think the NHS could save a fortune and people would feel much better about themselves if they didn’t immediately resort to medicine in all cases.


    1. Absolutely – prescriptions for gym sessions, or art classes, the possibilities are endless.


  6. deborahjlane says:

    I think sometimes people actually need to spend time talking to a counsellor or therapist before they can identify some of those feelings you are talking about.
    It can take YEARS to work out what is going on.
    Believe me, I know!
    So all you can say is ‘depressed’ until you can do the work to find out what depressed actually means for you.
    That is why doctors in the UK now refer people on to ‘talking therapies’ as they know they cannot properly identify depression either.


    1. The problem with being referred for talking therapy is that very many people don’t actually make the appointment. The system really doesn’t work very well at all. It concerns me greatly.


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