What is Crippling Depression?

Depressed person on a chair

If you have been feeling low and searched the internet for an answer you may have come across the term “Crippling Depression” and wonder if this is what you are suffering from. It is important to know what you may be experiencing. That is what will be discussed here.

Severe mental illnesses can leave anyone feeling helpless and hopeless. In some cases, people who suffer from a mood disorder feel so low that they might think that the term crippling depression is an accurate description of how they feel.

However, the term crippling depression is not a diagnosis or clinical term used by psychologist. Health professionals diagnose major depressive disorder. This is a problem that is defined in a particular way. It is also defined in terms of severity. What is important to know is that a major depressive disorder, even if severe, is treatable. Some of the best therapies for depression are psychological.

What Does a Major Depressive Disorder Look Like?

You may have experienced depression yourself or recognised some of the signs in people you know. We all have period of feeling sad or low. However, these are usually short lived, often for hours or a few days at most. One of the notable signs of depression is very low mood, nearly every day, for at least a couple of weeks; sometimes periods of depression are recurrent. It is not uncommon to suffer from bouts of depression throughout the years if the depression is untreated or poorly treated. The severity of one’s depression depends not only on how low and how long the depressed mood lasts, but also how severe other symptoms are.

Severe depression includes a loss of interest and pleasure in all, or almost all, activities that one used to like to do. It can also affect a person’s weight and appetite, some people lose their appetite, while others seem to gain an appetite and put on significant weight. Sleep disturbance is another symptom, for example, people with severe depression have significantly lower sleep quality compared to those without depression and people with mild depression (Sariarslan et al., 2015). Other symptoms, of a major depressive disorder, include irritability, loss of energy, a sense of guilt and worthlessness, poor concentration, and suicidal ideation.

In lay terms, a person with severe depression finds it very difficult to experience joy, to feel good about themselves, to have “business as usual”, and often ruminates on negative events, as well as thoughts of suicide, helplessness and hopelessness.

It is important to know that psychologists can assess, diagnose, and treat a major depressive disorder so that the sufferer can return to the life they want.  The severity of major depressive disorder has been studied since the 1960.  There are even ways to assess it through questionnaires. The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is one such measure. Importantly measures such as this are empirically validated. That is, we know they measure depression and how well they measure depression.  If you find a questionnaire on the internet it is important to know if it is empirically validated.  A questionnaire on crippling depression would not be something that a psychologist would use.

Potential Consequences of using the term Crippling Depression

Unbeknownst to them, a person who believes that they have a crippling psychological illness may keep themselves in a negative feedback loop of “nothing I can do to get better” which typically results in “I’m not getting better”, which also confirms their belief about this illness, that is, “it is really crippling”. Although feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are highly associated with severe depression, recognising these feelings as signs and symptoms of depression can be helpful. This is because depression, even severe and chronic depression is treatable.

Similarly, communication from others using the term crippling depression may be unhelpful. For those who are already battling with depression, they also struggle with self-esteem. If they were ever told that they had crippling depression, what would that mean to their self-esteem? They might further internalise their illness and think that there is “something wrong” with them They might think they’re failing to overcome their mental health battle, and now the depression is crippling them.

Language Matters

The world “crippling” may be one of several words that signal great difficulties for people who suffer from a mental or physical illness. People with severe depression may sometimes say that their illness feels crippling, or overwhelming and debilitating to the point that it robs them off their quality of life.

However, the word “crippling” is identified as offensive in dictionaries. For example, dictionary.com states:

“The words cripple and crippled are no longer considered appropriate. Although these terms have been in use since before the year 950, since the mid-1900s they have become increasingly uncommon and are now regarded as insulting.”


If you or someone you know has low mood that is persistent it may be that you are experiencing a major depressive disorder. This is something that can be changed. The term crippling depression can be problematic and lead people to feel worse. There are ways to move forward including seeking professional help.

Seeking help

If you are experiencing severe depression. You don’t have to go through this alone, especially when you’re unable to function well.

If you are having difficulties with very low mood and loss of interest in everything, low self-esteem and worthlessness a psychologist can assist you with this. At the Centre for Clinical Psychology, we focus on using evidence-based therapy for the treatment of depression and other problems. Call our team on 03 9077 0122.


Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1987). Beck depression inventory. New York:: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Sarıarslan, H. A., Gulhan, Y. B., Unalan, D., Basturk, M., & Delibas, S. (2015). The relationship of sleep problems to life quality and depression. Neurosciences Journal20(3), 236-242.