The Stigma of Depression

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Although nearly 30% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from mental illness, they are still surrounded by stigma and misinformation. Here are some of the most common misconceptions I have encountered in my years as a patient and mental health student.

1. People with depression are suicidal. 

Although many people who experience depression do attempt suicide or other forms of self-harm, it isn’t fair to assume all of them do. Being depressed doesn’t necessarily mean a person has lost the will to live or has any desire to hurt themselves. Many people with depression never even consider suicide or self-harm; its different for everyone.

2. Its just an excuse to be lazy and apathetic. 
Over the years, I’ve missed out on a lot of things because of depression or anxiety, particularly in high school. I was absent from school frequently, I ignored homework, and I avoided certain social situations. Many people began to assume this was out of laziness or a lack of caring, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. I cared deeply about succeeding in school and I would have loved nothing more than to be able to do all the “normal” things someone my age was supposed to do. Many people with depression (or other mental illnesses for that matter) have difficulty leading regular routines in terms of work and school because their symptoms get in the way. Its incredibly hard to do anything when your mind is full of worry and self-doubt.

3. Being depressed just means you’re sad. Its a normal thing that happens to everyone.
There’s no question- depression is pervasive. According to the CDC, an estimated one in ten adults in the U.S. experience depression. However, it is far from being “normal”.  Feeling sad for a short period of time in response to something in your life isn’t depression. We all get sad.  Depression is what happens when feelings of sadness, in combination with other symptoms, get out of control and effect multiple areas of daily life and hinders overall functioning over a period of time. Depression is a medical condition and does not effect everyone.

4. People with depression just need to “snap out of it”.  If they can’t get over it, that means they’re weak.
Anyone, regardless of intelligence, strength (physical or emotional), or level of success can be effected by depression. It doesn’t discriminate and it doesn’t go away without a fight. Learning to manage depression can be incredibly challenging. For some people, finding the right treatment involves going through dozens of different medications, many with harsh side effects. Many people have to address deep emotional issues in therapy and make significant lifestyle changes before truly feeling better.  Mental illness can’t be willed away by even the strongest individuals.

5. Depression isn’t a real medical condition.
Depression effects brain chemistry and can have numerous different physical symptoms. Some psychologists think the condition is actually caused by flawed brain chemistry or a genetic predisposition. Its no different than having a physical health condition like asthma, diabetes, or arthritis.

6. It will go away by itself.
There are many ways to treat depression, but wishing it away isn’t one of them. The most common forms of treatment include therapy and medications, but everyone heals differently. Some people benefit from alternative therapies like art therapy, meditation, acupuncture, and even exercise. Lifestyle changes such as adjusting diet or sleep schedule or avoiding drugs and alcohol can also improve the condition.

If you think you have depression, don’t be afraid to speak up and seek help. You are not weak and you are not alone. Talk to a friend, family member, or anyone else you trust about what you’re going through. There is no shame in asking for help. To find a mental health professional, visit this page or ask your doctor for a referral. Most colleges offer some type of counseling and most cities offer free or sliding scale based services for people without insurance. Be strong!

If you know someone with depression, be patient. Being a loved one of someone with depression can be extremely frustrating; its hard to see someone you care about suffer.  The best thing you can do is to stand by them through the worst and offer support. Give them a shoulder to cry on when they need it. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and arm yourself with knowledge. Encourage them to pursue treatment options. Most importantly, let you know you care.

For more information about depression and mental illness, visit this page. IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS call 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-TALK). 

What are your experiences with depression? What stigma or misconception have you encountered?

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