Comedian Jimmy Carr is right to say that depression is an 'over-used' word

Janet Street-Porter
Comedian Jimmy Carr told the BBC’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ that he thought depression an over-used term: Getty Images

Jimmy Carr will have annoyed quite a few people when he announced on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs this week that he thinks depression is an “over-used word”. The comic claimed that during his mid-twenties, when he left a dreary career in marketing to study psychology, he wasn’t suffering from depression, but was simply “sad”.

Only the very brave dare to suggest that not everyone who claims to be depressed is suffering from a clinical condition, as I’ve found out to my cost. I enraged many by writing exactly that. Depression, as Jimmy also explained, is a chemical imbalance, whereas happiness is a product of circumstances.

Carr might not be your cup of tea as a comic, but he’s consistently astute. Notions of happiness are relative to expectations, but experts routinely spend a fortune trying to measure what depression means. Former Prime Minister David Cameron started this costly investigation into the nation’s mental health, claiming that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) could use the findings to inform new legislation.

I’m not sure what laws have been passed to cheer us up; NHS waiting times have lengthened, air quality has gone down and we still have our refuse collected fortnightly. But the happiness industry continues to grow.

Exeter University’s Mood Disorders Centre reckons that stress is related to social support, and isolation can make you feel anxious and unhappy. Talk about stating the bl***ing obvious.

A new study from the ONS shows the UK is second to bottom in the European happiness league. Young people are said to be “exposed and insecure” – but wasn’t that always the case with teenagers? Britons are no more miserable than Swedes or Bulgarians, it’s just that we refuse to express our feelings in public.

I can’t buy the notion that our parents were happier either; there’s something fundamentally dishonest about believing quality of life has deteriorated.

I grew up with outside toilets, freezing showers, uncommunicative parents, Wimpy Bars and rubbish television. For most of us, life is better in 2017 – but don’t expect us to smile.

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