...take heart in knowing: only the best, funniest, loveliest, most empathetic, wonderful, talented people have depression. You're in a good crowd. Now. Let's go fight that black dog. Together.
Ex of Anthony Bourdain
In real life, the stigma of depression can take the form of thoughts such as:
"I am weak if I take medication."
"I can do this on my own."
"I am not like my mother/father/crazy aunt/neighbor who has mental illness."
"People will treat me differently."
"My friends/lover/spouse will leave me."
"I'll get fired."
"People will think less of me."
Opening up about any illness is frightening. You can never be sure what a person’s reaction will be, and that is scary. At some point, though, you have to trust that the people who love you will continue to love you. You’re still the same person. When people disclose to their friends and family that they have been diagnosed with a mental illness, there is a sense of relief. Most likely the people closest to you have seen symptoms of your illness and are glad that you are obtaining the treatment you need. Friends and family can also be more prepared to support your treatment journey when they know what is going on.
Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:
• Reluctance to seek help or treatment
• Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
• Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
• Bullying, physical violence or harassment
• Health insurance that doesn't adequately cover your mental illness treatment
• The belief that you'll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can't improve your situation
What helps people suffering from depression is to have contact with others going through it. It's important to observe that people struggling with depression are normal, ordinary people as well. People with depression often stigmatize themselves (self-stigma) and their condition. Avoiding social contact can prevent others from seeing them as quite normal by others. Of course, the irony is that those who are depressed often isolate themselves. This is where a support group can play an important role (more on this to follow).
With depression impacting 1 in 4 people, those afflicted have lots of company. This is a real opportunity to reach out to fellow compatriots and to make depression the “normalized” event it really is.
Here are some ways you can deal with stigma:
• Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment. Don't let the fear of being labeled with depression prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what's wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.
• Don't let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn't just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others who have depression can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.
• Don't isolate yourself. If you have depression, you may be reluctant to tell anyone about it. Your family, friends, clergy or members of your community can offer you support if they know about your depression. Reach out to people you trust for the compassion, support and understanding you need.
• Don't equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying "I'm bipolar," say "I have bipolar disorder." Instead of calling yourself a "depressive" say "I have depression."
• Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), offer local programs and internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people who have mental illness, their families and the general public. Meetup is a great resource for meeting like-minded individuals in social settings. The Depression Portal has a forum for those who want support but prefer anonymity. Some state and federal agencies and programs, such as those that focus on vocational rehabilitation and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offer support for people with mental illness as well.
• Get help at school. If you or your child has a mental illness that affects learning, find out what plans and programs might help. Discrimination against students because of a mental illness is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors or administrators about the best approach and resources. If a teacher doesn't know about a student's disability, it can lead to discrimination, barriers to learning and poor grades.
• Speak out against stigma. Consider expressing your opinions at events, in letters to the editor or on the internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.
Others' judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others can make a big difference.