What’s in the box? The Depression Box!

Postman Pat hands you a package with the mail. It’s angular. Sharp edges press into your flesh as you grasp it. It’s big. You need both of your arms around it in a bear hug to grab it. It’s heavy. You need to focus, straighten your back and bend at the knees to lift it safely. It rattles. Whatever’s inside has lots of parts, moving around, clanging against each other.

You look at the box.

In plain, clinical, typed script the package is labelled:


That’s disappointing.

You’d been hoping it was your latest bluetooth earbuds from Amazon… Perhaps, just encased in half a cubic metre of steel-clad styrofoam for extra protection…

You ponder the label on the box. You’ve heard the word before. You know what it means, at least a bit.

Do you need to open the box to find out what’s rattling inside, or do you already know, based on the label and what you know about the word? Would you open the box either way?

Then, you notice it’s actually addressed to someone else. So, you have some new information, but do you now know more or less about what might be in the box?

Many words are like this mystery box, aren’t they? The meaning held within the box of a word can vary and be unknown, despite familiarity with its superficial features. The concept held within a word-box can change with context, time, situation, individual perceptions and experiences. Sometimes we might believe we know what’s contained within the word-box, but be mistaken. Using words as boxes of meaning is necessary. If we attempted to describe everything possibly represented by many words we might spend several decades explaining the one word, and, well, good luck functioning in life! Sometimes, though, opening the package to find out what the word might mean in a particular situation and, for a particular person is very helpful for learning and understanding.

There are a lot of mystery word-boxes relating to mental health (including the term ‘mental health’ itself). Linked below is the basic outline of what the concept of ‘depression’ describes: the actual diagnostic criteria. These observations of a person (by themselves or by others) are the basic patterns and similarities that exist within the experience of anyone for whom the label is given. I won’t paraphrase it, because this is what the diagnosis of depression is based upon and it’s available on the internet for anyone to seek if they’re motivated to learn a bit.


You could re-brand it

“Happiness and Jazz Hands!”,

promote it as

“THE Existential Crisis X-perience”,

leave it nameless, or any other variation and the things described here would remain the same in a person’s experience. They relate to basic things that can often be seen in someone’s behaviour (when you know what you’re looking for), are experienced by a person and tend to happen at the same time as each other, with degrees of predictability.

That’s right. Depression isn’t a single glob of a thing or a label randomly assigned when someone’s in the mood to call another person depressed. It’s a specific concept used to describe many, many, many experiences that actually happen for people. It’s the happening of the things for the person that’s important, not the word, not the values we place upon it, not the connotations it has in culture or society. It’s the impact that experience has on people’s wellbeing that has driven a need for the label in the first place, and that impact exists independently of the label.

If you read the link, so far in exploring the word ‘depression’, we’re one metaphorical frozen water molecule at the very tip of the ice berg that sunk the Titanic. That’s about the extent of complexity we’ve covered in contrast to how much there is to be known. And this iceberg doesn’t even hold any of what is not yet known or unknowable at this stage.

At this point, I suggest taking a 5 minute pause. Put on your favourite pan-pipes soundtrack. Meditatively contemplate the chilling phrase,

“I don’t know”.

How could it be used more often in our thinking and speech to make us smarter through curiosity?

Now, slowly, in your own time, open your eyes and resume reading.

Tomorrow, I’ll crash into a new iceberg and examine a new molecule. I will tell you a bit about my personal depression box. I’ll save you the suspense and let you know that I have opened the box. I’ve examined its contents from the long-range angle of a Google Earth camera down to the precision of an electron microscope for nearly 20 years. The contents are sometimes part of my daily life, and, from exploring the contents of depression I’ve accumulated many useful and very hopeful accessories for life that I may never have found had I not looked inside.

I’ll leave you in the hope that the unusual coupling, ‘hopeful accessories’, jarred you a bit. I hope you’re wondering what a ‘hopeful’ accessory might be and even a bit confused about how ‘hopeful’ has a place in talk of depression. Please keep that wonder and use your feeling of confusion as a prompt to notice any preconceptions you might have about depression.

Hopeful was a conscious choice, not an unconscious mis-wording.

Australian contacts for those seeking help:

  • mentalhealthmonth.org.au
  • wayahead.org.au
  • wayaheaddirectory.org.au
  • WayAhead’s Mental Health Information Service: 1300 794 991 (9am – 5pm, Monday Friday) for advice and support.
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Transcultural Mental Health Centre (TMHC) Information and Clinical Consultation Line: (02) 9912 3851
  • For all emergencies call 000
  • MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800
  • Domestic Violence line – 1800 656 463
  • National Sexual Assault, Domestic & Family Violence counselling service: 1800Respect – 1800 737 732
  • Alcohol & Drug Info Services (ADIS) – 1800 422 599

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