If a friend came over one day and told you they’d been diagnosed with cancer, would you ever think to say, “just toughen up and get over it?” Would you tell them it’s all in their head, and if they’d just stop thinking about it they’d be fine? Of course not.
Then why would we consider acting this way to a friend or loved one who tells us they’re struggling with depression?
When someone you care about is feeling hopeless, sad, apathetic, or restless, it can be hard to acknowledge they might be battling a clinical illness. Acceptance, however, is the first step in understanding depression and knowing how to help.
The chances are pretty good that someone you know has depression. In fact, 19 million Americans struggle with the illness. That’s more than nine percent of the population. Educating yourself about depression means you can help eradicate negative stigmas about depression and become an advocate for those who suffer with mental illness.
3 Causes of Stigmas About Depression
While it’s true that you probably know someone with depression, you may not know who it is. Many people with depression are hesitant to discuss their condition because of the stigma surrounding the illness. In a survey conducted by the National Mental Health Association, a whopping 43 percent of Americans still think depression is a result of weakness or a deficit in one’s character.
Why do so many Americans feel this way about depression? Depression is seen as a weakness or vulnerability. In a society that values strong men and women, any weakness is a negative. As a man, you might be mocked when you express your emotions because many people expect men to be “manly.” A woman may be told to “hold it together” when she just can’t seem to handle her kids any more. Instead of seeing depression as an illness, we’re taught to see it as a defect.
3 reasons we may stigmatize depression
Depression usually has non-physical symptoms
It can be difficult to look at your friend and see any physical symptoms of depression. Mental illnesses don’t give an easy visual for not feeling well. Because of this, your boss might assume you’re faking your mental illness instead of helping you treat it like any other health concern.
Lack of awareness about depression
Do you really know what you need to do to treat depression? What are the outcomes of those treatments? This lack of awareness can lead many of us to stigmatize those with mental illness unless we take initiative to educate ourselves.
Negative media depictions about mental illness
Research shows we often get information about mental illness from the mass media — including movies, television, news stories, music, etc. When media creates a negative picture of depression, it can also affect our perspective of those who suffer from depression and could lead us to avoid, fear, or discriminate against those with mental illness.
Why Stigma Matters
If you have a loved one who suffers from depression, it can have a significant impact on their work, social life, personal relationships, and even their willingness to seek treatment. These struggles can be amplified and impacted by the way you and those around them view their mental illness.
The stigma can also impact how people with depression view themselves. Your neighbor with depression might think they’re incapable of recovery, are responsible for their condition, and don’t deserve appropriate healthcare. This could lead to “why try” kind of thinking. They may start to believe that if they’re incapable of recovery and can’t live normal lives, then why would they try to seek and participate any mental healthcare?
3 ways you can fight depression stigma
Like many illnesses, depression carries with it a social stigma. You have the power to change the perceptions of yourself and others as you do the following:
- Educate yourself. What does it feel like to have depression? Is depression easy to treat? Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions will allow you to avoid common misconceptions. Read about depression. Talk to a friend or doctor who knows about mental illness. Educating yourself will empower you and enlighten your conversations about depression.
- Be compassionate. Just as you’d take a bowl of soup to a friend with a cold, there are ways to help those around you who are struggling with depression. Listen, encourage, do things with them, and set your own realistic expectations for their treatment. Your loved one needs a compassionate friend — be that person.
- Share awareness and advocate. Share what you’ve learned about depression with others. Tell them about your experiences. While you may not change anyone’s mindset, some people may welcome the chance to learn more about how the illness affects so many in our society. Participate in campaigns and awareness events that help fight against mental illness discrimination. You can also spread awareness by writing about your experience and the experiences of other people. Sometimes it takes stories from real people to start real change.
Fighting the stigma surrounding depression is a journey in which we all must take an active role. We’re making good progress, and if you’ve read this far you’re probably doing something extra to help the cause. Keep it up. Together we can make a difference — and help the millions of people who suffer from depression.