Depression, along with every form of mental illness, has long been thought to be a moral failing, or a weakness in character. Unfortunately, because of this stigma, only about two out of every three people seek treatment. It is estimated that around 15 million American adults suffer from some form or level of depression (Statistics from Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance). I am not good at fractions and math anymore, but that is a lot of people not seeking treatment and suffering in silence.
By definition, depression is “an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts, that affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with a depressive disease cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people with depression (MedicineNet.com).” So why is there such a stigma with depression? If it’s an illness that can be controlled with medications, and is caused by a chemical imbalance, why are people so ashamed of it?
It took me a very long time to accept my depression. I felt ashamed of my illness, because at the time I did not think of it as such. I felt weak. I felt like a failure. I felt coo-coo, to be honest. How does someone so “normal” feel this way without something being wrong with their personality or character?
One day I talked to my former neighbor, we will call her E. E flat-out asked me if I felt depressed. I was kind of taken back by that. I mean, I tried hiding it from anyone and everyone that came in contact with me. I mean, what would they think if they knew I was nuts? She then told me about her own personal experiences with depression. She is also a licensed clinical Social Worker, so she has studied this kind of thing in school. The thing that got to me was that she is a smart and well spoken mom who suffers from the same illness as I. So, with that knowledge, I signed into a message board I frequented at the time to ask their experiences and thoughts. I was overwhelmed at the responses, and how so many of them also suffered from depression. I was not alone!
How can something so common in relatively normal, healthy people be considered crazy? Even in today’s society where things are becoming more and more accepted, any kind of mental deviation is frowned upon and shamed. I read an article the other day (and damn me for not saving it because now I can’t remember where I read it) that stated a poll was taken and about 91% of Britons would hide their depression or related illness from prospective employers for fear of being passed over. This is unacceptable. Depression should be looked at the same way diabetes. It’s an illness that can be treated successfully, if done right, with treatment.
You’re not weak for seeking treatment. You are the opposite. You are strong and courageous for confronting something that can be severe and debilitating. Do not let the stigma get in the way of you living a wonderful and fulfilling life. I am on the search for other forms of treatment myself. I have only taken a low dose of prozac, which did nothing for me. However, there are medicinal and therapeutic treatments out there that will help you, you just have to find the right one for you. Do not give up. Be courageous and fight this stigma. I’ve got your back. 🙂