What Is Crippling Depression?

depressed man in bed dark room

On a popular thread discussing crippling depression, one woman used her story to exemplify the condition.

“Everything seemed difficult,” she wrote.

She opened up about losing her job because she was unable to perform, neglecting basic hygiene and bills, feeling physically ill and contemplating suicide, among other issues.

“I would call it where you literally don’t want to do anything,” wrote another participant. “You are basically confined to your bed, without eating, without drinking and just want to wither away in your self-pity.”

Therapist Christine Fuchs learned about crippling depression through her work and offered similar descriptions. She listed a pervasive and significant decline in functioning in all areas of life. The illness makes people feel like “everything is overwhelming.”

Crippling Depression Defined

Crippling depression is clinical depression (major depressive disorder) that is severe to the point of limiting basic functioning, including the ability to work and live normally. Some of those afflicted experience episodes that last for a few weeks or months, as in after a loss or the death of a loved one. In other cases crippling depression is resistant to treatment and becomes a lifelong struggle.

Everyone who has lived with crippling depression has a unique experience, but there are some common threads such as difficulty sleeping or getting out of bed. When describing his period of crippling depression, mental health writer Stefan Taylor mentioned dropping out of college and “laying in bed all day.”

Is Crippling Depression the Same as Major Depressive Disorder, or Something More?

Some mental health professionals and people who live with depression believe crippling depression is simply a synonym for clinical depression or major depressive disorder. It is true that many have used the term this way, sometimes without being aware of its more popular meaning.

Sometimes popular phrases used to describe mental illness do not come from research, universities, or mental health organizations. Instead, people who live with certain disorders use unofficial terms to express levels of severity and describe how symptoms are affecting their functioning. Crippling depression is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Nonetheless, there is evidence that what people call “crippling depression” is significantly different than other forms of the disorder. Both the Mayo Clinic and National Institute of Mental Health do not specify an inability to work, for example, in their definitions of depression. These organizations seem to acknowledge the fact that every mental illness has degrees of severity.

Sufferers often live with moderate depression and experience symptoms that qualify for a diagnosis but do not noticeably impact daily functioning. Others cannot work full-time jobs or attend school. The term, “crippling depression,” came from the need to define this distinction.

A Symbol of Accepting Depression as a Disability?

Traditionally, people have used variations on the word, “crippling,” to describe physical disabilities such as the inability to walk, speak, or hear. Most people have accepted these types of disabilities as legitimate and deserving of support. The government often provides benefits to disabled people, especially those who request assistance because of the difficulty they have maintaining employment.

Describing oneself as “crippled” — or even “a cripple” — isn’t necessarily pejorative either. In her famous personal essay, “On Being a Cripple,” Nancy Mairs illustrated her life living with a case of multiple sclerosis that robbed her of the full use of her limbs. She chose to identify as “a cripple” and stated she wasn’t ashamed of the label.

Lately an increasing number of employers, mental health professionals, and organizations, including the World Health Organization, have acknowledged depression as a disability. Similar to Mairs, sufferers often declare they have crippling depression and believe such language is both appropriate and accurate. Some people use the term crippling depression to describe when they believe their symptoms have crossed the threshold from a manageable mental health condition to a disability.

How the ‘I Have Crippling Depression’ Meme Raised Depression Awareness

On July 17, 2016, YouTuber Ian Carter, whose channel name is iDubbbzTV, published a video that begins with him jumping into a wheelchair and saying in a silly voice, “I have crippling depression.” The video quickly went viral and became a popular, lasting meme.

There were many commenters who thought the joke was insensitive and offensive. Several responded by writing about how they had depression and believed it was a serious matter.

Before the meme took off, the internet interest for “crippling depression” was relatively low, according to Google Trends data. Once most viewers lost interest in the original video and memes, the frequency of the term plummeted dramatically. Nonetheless, the popularity level stabilized to a range that was about five times greater than in previous years. It is possible that the joke caused more people to use the phrase and galvanized those who felt that it was a legitimate term for a distinct mental health issue.

We Need to Be Accepting of Crippling Depression

Clinical diagnoses are useful and preferable, but people have the right to apply unofficial labels to their illnesses. We need to be accepting of the fact that some people feel that clinical terms do not fully or accurately describe their experience.

If you think you might have crippling depression, consider seeking mental health treatment such as psychotherapy. There are also many online resources that offer advice for dealing with depression. To be there for loved ones who might have the disorder, read up on how to support someone with depression. The illness is much less crippling when you have support and loved ones to lean on.

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