Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

A Metaphor for Depression

Understanding depression through language

“It’s like I was in a loud room for so long, I didn’t know how loud it was. And all I have now is the ringing in my ears.”

A friend sent me this quote from actor and writer Wil Wheaton. Like many people who experience depression, Wheaton was resistant to taking medication and didn’t find talk therapy to work for him.

But, he committed to treatment and, ultimately, it made a difference. Wheaton has come out of his depression, but recognizes that where he is is a place on a path, not a final destination.

As a writer, I’m always seeking words that capture experiences in a way that allows them to be reflected honestly to the world. I found Wheaton’s metaphor for depression - the loud room - to be particularly apt.

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To break it down and offer a few comments on why Wheaton’s metaphor works:

“The loud room”

Depression drowns out everything else. It can actually blunt experiences and it certainly feels overwhelming, dominating.

“I didn’t know how loud it was”

Depression contributes to a loss of perspective. A person with depression often only sees the world through the lens of depression.

“And now all I have is the ringing in my ears”

Depression doesn’t go away like a cold, when one day you wake up and feel better. Depression can leave a ringing in the ears, an echo of the loud room. Recovery can feel like coming out of a pool after a deep dive - refreshing and shocking.

As I think in particular about how depression might be experienced by suicidal individuals, the part of Wheaton’s metaphor that rings most true to me is “I didn’t know how loud it was.” And the question I’m left with is, how can we help people struggling with depression and suicidality realize how loud it is - and that it might be possible to live in greater quiet and peace?

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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