Intermediate word of the day: depression

Today’s word is depression. Depressions are all to do with being low and down. So when you are suffering from depression, you have low energy and emotion and are very unhappy. When the country is experiencing a depression, there is very long period of low economic activity. There might even be bad weather caused by a depression – which is low pressure in the atmosphere. It would be fair to say that whether it’s a severe depression or a mild depression, there’s nothing much good about depressions!

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The adjective that comes from depression is depressed. Someone might get depressed after losing their job – and a lot of people suffer from depression during an economic depression! You might be depressed by the lack of something – maybe because you don’t have enough of something; for example, you may find a lack of money or even your lack of progress in your English depressing. I hope not, though!

We also often say we find it depressing if something makes us unhappy. So, for example, a lot of people find the news depressing because it’s full of stories about people killing each other or about the economy being in recession or crimes that have been committed.

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So depression clearly isn’t a cheerful subject, but let’s think a little more about these words. What other things can cause someone to become depressed? Pause for a moment and think about your answer.

There are a number of possible causes of depression. To begin with, it might be partly genetic. Some people have a history of depression in their family. For example, apparently both the parents and children of the American writer Ernest Hemingway suffered from severe recurrent depression and several members of the family committed suicide – they killed themselves. People often suffer from bouts of depression because of terrible problems during their childhood; for example, maybe they were physically or sexually abused, or they were rejected by their parents in some way. People may also get depressed after particularly traumatic events. For example, someone might become depressed following an accident or after their mother dies – this depression after someone dies is also called grief.  Finally, someone might get depressed because of an illness – maybe because it stops them doing the things they want or maybe because of the side effects of the drugs they’re taking.

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OK – still with me? Not got depressed yourself yet, I hope! Now think about what happens when someone’s suffers from depression – and what might they do to come out of depression . . . what might make them better? Pause again for a moment and think about the answers.

Well, usually when someone’s depressed, they feel very low or they feel down. They often lack energy and don’t want to get out of bed.  They might avoid talking to people or avoid going out and maybe just sit around all day in their room. Sometimes people might burst into tears – they start crying a lot often for no apparent reason. Some people might self-medicate – in other words, get drunk or get out of it on drugs as a way to avoid thinking about their problems. Mild depression might lead to people eating too much – particularly sweet things like cakes. Of course, all of these things may lead to further depression. It can become a vicious circle which is difficult to escape. The worst could be that they finally commit suicide.

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But most people don’t go that far. Most people will have at least a mild bout of depression at some point in their lives, but the vast majority of us get over it. Many will get over it on their own over time or circumstances change – like they find a job or recover from illness and the depression just sorts itself out. Other people may have therapy – they talk to a professional person and through that – they come to terms with problems from their childhood, or with grief. Some people take prescribed medication; in other words, the doctor put them on anti-depressants. In the UK today, there are apparently around 4 million people on anti-depressants such as Prozac. How shocking is that?

Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say three different kinds of depression.
  • Say four possible reasons why people suffer from bouts of depression.
  • Say four things people might do if they suffer from depression.
  • How might people get over depression?
  • What does someone do if they self-medicate?

Want to learn more with Lexical Lab? Take one of our summer school courses in London.

Related stories in the news

In a remarkable story, two major investors in Apple recently wrote a letter to the company asking it to look into the impact that iPhones have on teenagers and to find out whether the phones lead to depression ion young people. They expressed fears that iPhones are distracting kids, depriving them of sleep, addicting them to screens and, most worryingly, contributing to teen depression and suicide risk. They also want Apple to offer parents more tools to help kids use their products.

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Because it’s the middle of winter here, and the days are cold and short and dark, there have been plenty of news stories about SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, or depression caused by the weather. A recent study has found that woman are more likely to be hit by SAD than men. Why this might be is not yet clear, though.

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Finally, there was a story about the fact that last year stressed British workers took around 12.5 million days off work as depression and anxiety hit. Across the year, more than half a million people suffering from depression, stress or anxiety were unable to turn up for shifts as planned. This shows the enormous scale of the damage that mental illness does to individuals and the wider economy.

Discuss

  • Does anyone you know ever suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder? What can be done to tackle this problem?
  • Do you think mobile phones can contribute towards depression in young people? Why? / Why not?
  • When did your country last suffer an economic depression? What happened? How / why did it end?
  • What kinds of things do you find a bit depressing? Why?

  • pgall

    Excellent write up on an issue which affects many people. It’s a great idea to raise students’ awareness of such topics while they learn how to use useful language.

    • hugh dellar

      Thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed the post. Agree that it’s an issue that affects many students – especially those who are studying away from home. And yes, it’s all too rarely discussed and never appears in EFL material.


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