The social depression stigma causes isolation, fear and a reluctance for some to seek appropriate treatment. But exactly what is it and how can it be stopped?
A few years ago I found myself skipping a section on a job application form about my health. It wasn’t that I wanted to lie, or was being deliberately deceitful, it was just that I didn’t want to be judged by the owner of the company before he had even met me. In reality if I had listed my mental health problems in that section it would have read something like this:
- Chronic major depression – treatment resistant.
- General Anxiety & frequent panic attacks.
It’s hardly a gleaming selling point because of what the person reading is likely to perceive based on what socially is considered ‘normal’ behaviour for people with mental health problems. The stigma surrounding depression and mental health in general leads people to believe that those who suffer from mental health problems are somehow less able, less equipped or less reliable than others.
What is the stigma surrounding depression?
For many years a lack of information and education for those who do not suffer from or experience mental health problems has led to a set of misinformed beliefs which are held by many. These beliefs incorrectly categorise people with mental health illnesses and label them quite often as something they are not.
People commonly believe that:
- Depression is simply feeling sad.
- That depression is easy to cure, you just need to “get over it”.
- That depression is a sign of weakness.
- That they are too strong to get depression.
- Depression can only be treated with medication.
- People with mental illness are crazy.
- People with mental illness are less reliable.
- People suffering from a mental illness have no ‘real’ symptoms.
It is only by educating people about the reality of mental illness that we can end the stigma surrounding it. This article focuses on depression and below are some examples of how informing certain people can help to increase their understanding of what it is people with mental health issues go through.
Our friends are usually the first to hear of problems in our lives – and humans have built these social networks primarily for the support and companionship they offer. Despite having often large social support systems in place however we tend to shy away from discussing mental health with our peers for fear of being judged, being seen to be weak or from a fear of losing our friendships.
True friends though will be there to support you through anything and there is no real reason that mental health should be a taboo subject to discuss with your friends. Your closest friends may be the people who know you best, and they may have even noticed changes in your behaviour which so far you havent accounted for – telling them the truth could lead to you getting the support you need.
The support of family can be critical in getting the help you need and deserve to face mental health problems. Its worth spending some time educating family members on how your mental health effects you (and those around you) and the type of support you need. Remember that educating someone about the realities of mental health problems not only potentially helps you, but could help them, or others they know. Spreading knowledge is the key to ending the stigma.
Employers & Colleagues
There are now a few laws which help to protect against discrimination in the work place, but that doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Sometimes even employers need to be informed about the reality of what a mental health diagnosis means. Not only will it help your employer to understand your situation and your illness but it will help them to be able to provide any support and assistance they can.
It can be scary telling your boss about your mental health, and it automatically puts us into a defensive and vulnerable state of mind – but honesty and being open about your health concerns is critical to getting everyone on the same level of understanding. A few minutes of awkward conversation may just help you feel more comfortable for the rest of your employment.
Work colleagues can sometimes also be tricky to explain mental health problems too – and you shouldn’t feel pressured into doing so. But if you decide to be open about your health with your work mates then taking the time to explain your symptoms, how the illness affects you and spending time dispelling some of the myths can be beneficial to your working relationships.
Part of the problem with the stigma of depression is how it affects the suffer. It can lead to feeling isolated, unsupported, vulnerable and scared. Part of ending the stigma is having the confidence to talk about your problems openly and honestly whenever you can and especially when you need to.
Even discussing your emotions, feelings and mental health with doctors can sometimes feel awkward and embarrassing but it shouldnt stop you. Only by being honest about how you feel can you expect to receive the best tailored care for your particular situation.
If you are not a sufferer you can still help end the stigma by learning about some of the realities of mental health and how it affects the people you love.
For more reading check out http://bringchange2mind.org/