People may use metaphors to help explain their experience with depression to help others conceptualize abstract concepts in easier-to-understand language.

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You probably speak or write in metaphors without thinking about it most days. Metaphors are a common way to express how you are feeling and sum up large, sometimes abstract concepts without going into the gritty detail of what is causing your feelings.

Metaphors to describe depression are no different than the ones you may use talking about other things. They may help a person with depression describe what they’re feeling, thinking, and experiencing without having to explain every symptom they may be dealing with at the time.

Please note that these metaphors are simplistic representations of depression and may not fully express how you or everyone living with depression feels. Still, they may help provide insight for those trying to understand what some people are feeling.

Language matters

Gendered terms like “women” and “men” are used throughout this article. But we understand gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body. So, when we use this language, we’re referring to all people who identify as a woman or a man.

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It isn’t uncommon for a person with depression to experience brief periods of feeling good. But the feelings associated with depression may quickly return.

A rollercoaster describes how depression can sometimes feel like it reaches more intense heights or eases up.

If you live with depression, you might use this phrase to explain how you have trouble finding pleasure in things you once enjoyed.

It can be hard for someone who hasn’t experienced this to understand how something that once made you happy doesn’t elicit any positive feelings.

Known medically as anhedonia, a loss of interest in activities is a core symptom of depression and is linked to poor treatment outcomes.

It can be difficult when living with depression to reach out to others for help or seek out human connection. Though anyone may find seeking help difficult for many reasons, studies indicate men have a harder time seeking help compared to women.

A 2019 study noted that men have a 1.8x higher likelihood of ending their life compared to women. They noted this might be directly related to not seeking help for their condition.

If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.

Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge:

This metaphor refers to the idea that depression follows you around. Winston Churchill reportedly described the same feeling as a “black dog” following him.

But the International Churchill Society disputes the idea this was in reference to either depression or bipolar disorder.

Still, it alludes to the idea that depression will always be a part of who you are and, like your shadow, will follow you.

A ball and chain was a common form of imprisonment years ago. Captors would shackle a chain attached to a ball to the prisoner’s ankle to make escape much more difficult.

A ball and chain metaphor suggests that depression will not just follow a person but keep you tied to it. It speaks to the idea that escaping depression may be difficult or feel impossible.

The idea of depression being a pit implies that the world around you does not see you.

You may feel like they are walking around you or even over you, but without some help, like throwing down a rope or ladder, it can be difficult to get out of the pit.

If you know someone with depression or who may have depression, you can take some steps to help them. Though these may not work for everyone, your friends or family may appreciate being seen and acknowledged, which may help motivate them to seek or continue treatment.

Some tips include:

  • learn the signs and symptoms of depression and realize men will likely present differently than women with more aggressive outbursts and anger
  • suggest they seek treatment, such as talking with someone about how they feel
  • look for signs of worsening depression and encourage your loved ones to speak up at their doctor appointments or adjust treatment
  • stay vigilant about the signs of suicide
  • provide support, including things like letting them talk with you, encouraging treatment, and offering other assistance as needed
  • try to create a low-stress environment
  • consider helping them find local resources
  • consider learning about the signs and symptoms of depression in children as they may display irritability or outbursts when feeling depressed

For more tips, you can view this article about helping a loved one with depression.

People may find metaphors about depression enlightening, but they are only one of many ways to describe how depression makes a person feel. They also may not fully explain how you or a loved one feels about depression.

For some, though, metaphors may help them understand and learn more about the thoughts and feelings associated with depression.

The metaphors above may assist someone with starting a convo with someone they think may be depressed, but it’s suggested that you don’t minimize the experience of someone living with depression.

You can take steps to help a loved one with depression by learning more about depression, offering support, and encouraging treatment.