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Hamish and Kyle - On talking about depression and the language of mental health

Kyle and Hamish discuss depression and how to talk about what you're feeling. Video / NZ Herald

Kyle and Hamish discuss depression and how to talk about what you're feeling. Video / NZ Herald

NZ Herald

By Hamish Williams

In this web series, psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald and Nutters Club co-host Hamish Williams look at mental health and how to navigate some of the more challenging parts of modern life. Today they talk about language.

When The Nutters Club radio show was born in 2009, there was little to no public conversations about mental health. Pioneering mental health advocate Mike King demonstrated immense courage to discuss depression, the inner critic and suicide. He not only started a conversation but introduced the use of these terms to a wider audience which has helped build a mental health vocabulary.

As this language around our mental health has become more widely used, the definitions of the conditions referenced have at times become generalised and some of us, myself included, have indulged in self-diagnosis of ourselves and others.

Overwhelmingly this isn't a bad thing. It's excellent that we broaden our language to better communicate our own emotional states as well as to understand others. Often though we don't always understand the definition of the terms we're using.

In taking the time to delve just a little deeper into the meaning of the words we use, we can understand where the line sits between describing a feeling and a potential mental illness. A common example of this idea is what the difference is between saying you feel depressed and that you might be having a bad day.

"Talking about our difficulties and the emotions they produce should be encouraged, it's a good thing", says psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald. "At the same time mental health terms like depression have clear definitions so we need to be careful that we understand the words we use."

Sure, I get it. We should always be considerate in the language we use. But if someone tells me they're feeling depressed should I sound the alarm and rush them to see a GP?

It's here that increasing our knowledge of language can help. When you say "depressed" do you really mean sad, distressed or unmotivated? Or is it that you're feeling irritable, empty or even angry? Even an absence of feelings can be cause for feeling "depressed".

"The basic way to think about you or others' mental health is that it's a problem if it's a problem," says MacDonald. "If it's causing issues for you in an area of your life like work output, personal relationships or just doing activities that you otherwise enjoy, then reach out for professional help, talk with a friend or call 1737."

Whether or not you've been at it for a while or it's something you're just beginning to take an interest in, feel assured in the knowledge that taking the time to find the language to accurately communicate our state of mind not only lets others know where we might be on the mental health spectrum, it also helps regulate our own emotions to articulate how we're feeling.

Some might call that "inner peace", others that you're feeling "sweet as", either way find the words that work for you.