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An experiment: in the absense of a clinical diagnosis, avoid the word “depressed” as a self-description. In its place, use words such as “unhappy” or “sad.”


August 23, 2009 - Posted by | language


  1. Aren’t people who use “depressed” when they mean “unhappy” or “sad” usually considered to be retards?

    Comment by Craig | August 23, 2009

  2. Perhaps by clinical assholes.

    Comment by ben | August 23, 2009

  3. I don’t think “clinical asshole” is in the current DSM, which suggests it is diagnostically impossible to be a “clinical asshole.”

    Comment by Craig | August 23, 2009

  4. Perhaps I meant “those who are clinical and assholes”.

    Comment by ben | August 23, 2009

  5. That was a weird response, Craig.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 23, 2009

  6. But clinical what?

    Comment by Craig | August 23, 2009

  7. To respond more directly to Craig’s remark: I wouldn’t have written this post if I didn’t believe it was actually fairly common to use “depressed” where people of previous generations might have used “unhappy” or “sad.” In fact, I very rarely hear anyone use the word “sad” anymore as a self-description. I don’t think this is evidence of widespread mental disability, though.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 23, 2009

  8. I agree with the point of Adam’s post: unless they’ve dealt with psychiatric illnesses first-hand, or have intimate second-hand knowledge of them, people should, in general, refrain from describing people as “psychotic” or “schizo” or “manic depressive” or just plain “depressed.” I was just under the impression that people who do this were considered uncouth in polite company.

    To the best of my knowledge, the developmentally disabled are no longer called “retarded.” At least not in polite company. This suggests to me that it is now permissible to use the word as slang.

    Comment by Craig | August 23, 2009

  9. Craig, I can think of a number of counter-examples that invalidate your point about “retarded.”

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 23, 2009

  10. Sadly, however, we are in polite company, so I cannot name those examples outright.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 23, 2009

  11. I would also gently suggest that you may not have precisely hit upon the exact nature of my post’s point.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 23, 2009

  12. But clinical what?

    Are you yourself, perhaps, retarded? Have you never encountered “clinical” in the present context, as in, “your manner is cold, detached, and clinical”?

    In any case, the realm of diagnostic possibility is much smaller than the realm of actual possibility.

    Comment by ben | August 23, 2009

  13. I wrote 12 before reading 8; I actually don’t think one should use “retarded” in the way I did. This I confess.

    Comment by ben | August 23, 2009

  14. That connotation of “clinical” did not occur to me.

    Comment by Craig | August 23, 2009

  15. As for retarded, a friend sent me an email the other day with the subject “retarded” and it contained a link to an article about Bryan Singer’s “Battlestar Galactica” movie. The friend in question is definitely more polite than I.

    Comment by Craig | August 23, 2009

  16. Well, that proves it!

    Comment by ben | August 23, 2009

  17. Anecdotal evidence is evidence, no?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 23, 2009

  18. MY anecdotal evidence suggests that you’d much easier get away with calling someone or something psychotic than retarded.

    Comment by ben | August 24, 2009

  19. fool is a nice word imo

    Comment by read | August 24, 2009

  20. I think ‘reTARD’ might come into play for a year or so.

    Comment by Chad | August 24, 2009

  21. 8.2 is not correct. Using “retarded” is a bad habit and you should break it. I appreciate that this can be difficult, and not everyone wants to let it go. It’s a fun word to say and it has kick. But there are sacrifices worth making for inclusion and civility.

    Comment by k-sky | August 24, 2009

  22. I’m baffled by Craig’s apparent belief that people use “depressed” as a term of abuse.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 24, 2009

  23. You would be baffled, you depressed idiot.

    Comment by Hill | August 24, 2009

  24. Depressed is just a word that means something is low or lowered; if your mood is low, then say depressed. Just because it has been taken over as a clinical term doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it when feeling unhappy or sad.

    Comment by Adam | August 24, 2009

  25. Maybe I’m not digging deep enough into my memory banks, but it seems like in my experience people who are just blue might describe themselves as depressed. But people who have been clinically diagnosed might describe themselves as “suffering from depression”.

    I realize this was just suggested as an experiment, but it seems like if you’re talking to anybody who describes themselves as sad, unhappy or depressed your inevitable follow-up question about why they’re feeling that way would usually unearth whether we’re talking about the kind that leads to a prescription.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | August 24, 2009

  26. Major unhappy disorder, thy name is MUD! Rofl

    Comment by Currence | August 24, 2009

  27. Okay, here’s what I was getting at: there are some situations where you should have negative feelings or else there is something wrong with you. Referring to it by the quasi-technical term “depressed” seems to me to subtly indicate that there is something wrong and correctable about said state — it’s, in some small way, a medicalization of normal human emotions.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 24, 2009

  28. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that “depressed” is a term of abuse. I did, however, say that it is misused to the extent that only those who are clinically depressed should be described as depressed. This seems quite compatible with your comment at 27 and the original post.

    Comment by Craig | August 24, 2009

  29. Diagnostic accuracy aside, even in its lay meaning “depressed” connotes a state of long-standing and persistent unhappiness while “unhappy” or “sad” connote a more transient state. Ergo, Adam is completely correct to suggest that the choice to describe oneself as “depressed” rather than “sad” is likely to have a meaningful effect.

    Comment by Di Kotimy | August 28, 2009

  30. Since we’re all very nice people and would never refer to an actually developmentally disabled person as “retarded” or as a “retard”, can’t we then in good conscience use “retarded” as a general synonym for “boneheaded”? If we’re allowed to call people “cretins” and “cretinous”, I think we can.

    Comment by ed bowlinger | August 28, 2009

  31. It seems to me that using a person’s condition as a term of abuse is an insult even if you don’t use it directly against that person.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 28, 2009

  32. So we must also stop calling outcasts “lepers” and the unobservant “blind” or “near-sighted”. We should stop describing the puny as “anemic”.

    Comment by ed bowlinger | August 28, 2009

  33. You’re being both pedantic and wilfully obtuse. I guess we must be on a blog or something.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 28, 2009

  34. As someone who suffers from clinical, congenital pedantry, I’m deeply insulted.

    Comment by ed bowlinger | August 28, 2009

  35. That was a funny comment, but it might have been funnier if you’d protested that your obtuseness was congenital. Well, now that I type it, I’m not sure. What do you think?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 28, 2009

  36. I can’t help being an asshole, Kotsko, I was born this way.

    Comment by ed bowlinger | August 29, 2009

  37. So presumably it’s not an insult to you if I call people assholes, as long as I restrict the word “asshole” only to those not afflicted by the unfortunate condition of congenital assholery?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 30, 2009

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