Choose Your Words Wisely: On Melancholy and Sadness

By Jayshree M. Tripathi

Have you noticed the apparent stealth with which certain words are doing the rounds on Social Media platforms, in a flippant way? How some persons talk about counselling in belittling tones or alternatively, in nonchalant tones, saying that it is like going to the gym?

We need to pause and consider what we say and write, bearing in mind the far-reaching repercussions our words may have. I have read harsh and hurtful words online and as someone who has experienced most of the these emotions, in varying degrees, over the past forty years, it evokes a strong reaction each time and takes a while to put behind me. I have been fortunate to have worked through issues, including by talking to professionals. I did not need medication, but some people do. This is important to know and not feel apprehensive about.


Intensive research has been conducted over the years and figures put out – that one in four persons the world over has had or will have a (mental health) ‘episode’ at some point in their life. Many families have loved ones and friends who have needed or need help. Without the stigma attached to the word ‘mental’. Symptoms may seem interchangeable, but a word of caution. Tread very softly here.


Let me begin with melancholy – the word may trip off your tongue as it sounds mellifluous.

The term ‘Melancholia’ goes back to the time of Hippocrates: c. 460– 370 BC. It is now defined as a distinctive mood that is not interpreted as severe depression*.

Or you may recall John Keats (1795-1821), in an Ode to Melancholy – where he exhorts the reader to seek out beauty rather than sink under the influence of drugs.

“But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,

Or on the wealth of globed peonies…”

These images have always evoked my senses with mixed feelings, hard to pin into categories.

Sylvia Plath, 1932-1963, often wrote of her ‘emptiness’ and ‘blankness’.

In Tulips, she writes, 

“I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly

As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.

I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.…”

She wrote these lines on her stay in a hospital. When she could not deal with her emptiness, she ended her life.

(Editor’s note: If you or anyone you know feels desperate or suicidal, please do reach out for professional help. Know that you are not alone, that help is available. Some suicide prevention helplines for India are listed here)

Seeking help The Health Collective
Myths and Facts: Image by The Health Collective

As Plath wrote in Lady Lazarus:

“Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a call.”

Contemplating suicide cannot be taken lightly. And no, it is not fashionable to make an irreverent statement on it, even in jest.


Feeling worthless is not to be taken lightly either, especially if coupled with feelings of self-loathing and the inability to move forward over a long period of time.

Sadness is perhaps the only common factor amongst all human beings – but this may pass sooner for some than others.

Depression is not just feeling the blues, or just sadness or a mood that people can outgrow. Sadness and depression may be connected, but sadness is but one element of depression.

It is a much bandied word.

Anxiety, yes, when you feel uneasy, your heart beats faster, you may sweat or breathe rapidly – about an interview or taking an exam or doing some public speaking, may be considered normal under stressful conditions. However, if it interferes with your daily life, for an extended period of time, then it cannot be taken lightly.


Bereavement brings its own bag of troubles – even raising the question of whether grief actually protects a person from major depression. The process of grieving or mourning, is a natural one, but each individual grieves differently.

Mourning, grief, a period of depression after losing a loved one is “normal” but the death of a loved one can trigger major depression. I closed up soon after my husband died two years ago, and resented people telling me that life goes on … yes, it does but I did not want to hear it.

They had my best interests in mind. It took me months to find the strength to say so.

May one be forbidden to mourn?

John Donne (1572-1631), wrote A Valediction : Forbidding Mourning

“As virtuous men pass mildly away,

And whisper to their souls to go,

Whilst some of their sad friends do say

The breath goes now, and some say, No….”

The poets mentioned here all express universal feelings of suffering.

I do believe Poetry sometimes helps us express what we cannot articulate – the memories that cause pain. It is important to remember the power that words have.

Others may find Art /Painting effective in dealing with their emotions, or listening to music, singing or cooking, running or playing a sport. But you have to actually enjoy what you do, not resent being told to do it!

Losing a job or being a victim of a physical assault, of domestic violence, confronting duplicity may also lead to major depression. So can loneliness, ageing and the empty-nest syndrome. Professional help must be sought if symptoms last longer than two weeks. These may include mood swings, the inability to make decisions, thoughts on death or suicide, experiencing fatigue, excessive sleep, or insomnia, sudden weight gain, drug or alcohol abuse – but ONLY a professional may diagnose these symptoms. A professional will over the course of counselling, decide whether psychotherapy is effective or whether medication may be required and will refer you to a clinical doctor.

At least nowadays, there is discussion on these topics. Your parents and grandparents may have suffered too – with little or no support. Words were not spoken. Feelings were kept under wraps.

Each of us has a public face and a private face. We really do not know what others are going through. So whatever your thoughts, on whichever topic, please go easy on what you write on social media – there are far too many desolate souls out there who may mistake flippancy for fact. And think the unthinkable. My thoughts here are only the tip of the iceberg


Quotes courtesy:
Sources: *


Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. Material on The Health Collective is not intended to and cannot substitute for expert advice from trained professionals.


Feature Image by Issam Hammoudi for Unsplash