Making Depression More Logical: The Depression Grayscale

When depression becomes a part of your life from within or by proxy through someone…

Making Depression More Logical: The Depression Grayscale

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When depression becomes a part of your life from within or by proxy through someone close, having a shared point of view on it can help reduce how often its results isolate and overwhelm.


There’s only so far mere words can go in imparting a first-person experience. No matter how many adjectives someone uses to describe an exotic fruit you’ve never eaten, for example, you will never be able to intuitively judge its flavor until you sample it yourself.

Depression is a first-person experience too, and trying to define it with mere words is equally insufficient. Yet from my experience as a therapist and my experience with depression itself, I recognize how important some modicum of understanding is to having interaction between a depressed and neurotypical person that goes beyond the superficial.

So, how does one get around this comprehension obstacle? What I have found works well is to skip trying to agree on a universal, one-size-fits-all definition for depression, and instead examine depression’s results. This will allow each person to extrapolate for themselves some of how depression gradually takes the worth out of life worth living.

Below is the Depression Grayscale – a linear presentation of some of depression’s more common results, ordered such that they compound in severity. (As you read, it may be helpful to keep in mind that in real life, depression does not organize itself into neat step by step increments: this scale is more of a compass than a map.)

Depression Grayscale

0: Person is symptom-free.

1: Depression skews occasional thoughts, distorting an otherwise regular day.

2: Frequently depressed thoughts induce physical symptoms: headache; low appetite; stiffness.

3: Depressive thoughts overlap into a filter through which all life is experienced, reducing the ability to enjoy or take interest; physical symptoms increase in strength and variety.

4: Filter and symptoms parasitically divert so much energy and concentration that high-level brain function is impaired (reducing problem-solving ability, memory, etc), leading to social aversion.

5: Symptoms coalesce into overall physical fatigue that sleep cannot alleviate. Fatigue combines with social isolation to make hygiene and other basic at-home tasks present as not worth effort.

6: Enervation obscures memories and hopes of regularity. To protect itself from excessive negative input the nervous system reduces ALL sensory input, good and bad (ex: appetite is reduced to nil).

7: Pervasive mindset is that little to nothing is of worth, from food to relationships to oneself. The inability to survive may manifest, whether from self-neglect or suicide.


Note: Someone who has never had depression might fight off any one of the above basic results and carry on with life, but as results accumulate, fighting them all off all the time can leave little capacity to do much more than play “symptom whack-a-mole” – yet another way depression steals worth from life.

Are you starting to gain intuition into what life is like for a depressed person?

To be useful to a variety of people, the Grayscale is purposefully emotionless – thoughts are mentioned, yes, as are physical symptoms; subjective feelings like ‘sad’ or ‘embarrassed,’ no. The logical nature of the Grayscale makes it an entanglement- and judgment-free tool for people who prefer to avoid touchy-feely conversations, whether they are the one experiencing or the one trying to comprehend:

  • If someone close to you has depression, you now have a better understanding of the side-battles they’re fighting – which will help you know how to work with them at different levels of wellness. Knowledge is power, and now you have the knowledge.
  • If you are the one with depression, this scale is useful both as a self-check and as a translation tool. The scale’s numbers can act as shorthand: saying “I’m at about a three this morning” may be enough for someone familiar with the scale to gauge how to best interact with you.

When depression becomes a part of your life from within or by proxy through someone close, having a shared point of view on it can help reduce how often its results isolate and overwhelm. May this tool help you retain more of the worth in the lives of you and yours.


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