Mental illness is not something to belittle. Just because you cannot see it, does not mean it ceases to exist. It is very real and it is terrifying.
Depression is a brain disorder distinguished by persistent sadness and a loss of interest. For those who do not understand the feeling or know the definition, Chonda Pierce, an Emmy-nominated and best-selling comedian, clarified the disorder. “Take a pillowcase full of rocks and strap it to the top of your head,” Pierce said. “Now put on a dark pair of sunglasses — indoors. Leave those things on for about a week. Until you begin to see the world through a dark film that never gets lighter, and it takes a very conscious effort to hold your head up. That is what depression feels like on a good day.”
The effects of depression can cause a significant impairment in daily life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. It’s their reality and the stigma surrounding it is their ordeal.
The societal stigma around depression leads to negative stereotyping in conjunction with discrimination. These negative stereotypes lead people to categorize those with depression as crazy and weird.
More often than not, many question the credability of this disorder. Some question whether they are either faking it, looking for attention or just want another reason to complain. Those who are actually suffering know that this stereotype is far from the truth and only hurts those who are trying to seek help and manage their depression.
In a 2006 study done by the Mental Health Commission of Western Australia, nearly one in four people felt that depression was a sign of personal weakness and would not employ a person with depression. It is not a personal weakness and it is not a character flaw. It is caused by genetic, biological, social, hormonal and environmental factors.
In a recent article, The Huffington Post disclosed that 43.8 percent of women state that their number one reason for not telling someone they are depressed is that, “Others would think I am weak or think less of me.” As for men, 57 percent said their reason was that they believe they will get over it themselves.
This mind set only furthers the stigma that those with depression are weak and must deal with it alone. However, according to Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist quoted in the same article, the reality is quite the opposite. “These are not weak people,” said Rutherford. “Far from it. It takes a lot of courage to confront depression.”
During a White House conference on Mental Health, it was stated that “depression is the cause of over two-thirds of the 30,000 reported suicides in the U.S. each year.”
Those who believe that this stigma isn’t an issue don’t understand its complexity. Just because you cannot see someone showing physical signs of depression does not mean that their diagnosis or severity of the situation is any less valid. Taking the validity away from those who are suffering just demeans those willing to take their lives over this disease.
No one asks to be depressed and it’s just as valid as any other physical illness. Dehumanizing people to the characteristics of their illness only causes those who are suffering to feel ashamed and more reluctant to talk about it.
The stigma around depression is all too prevalent in our society today, and together, we need to collectively dispel these misconceptions and to show people they are more than just their illness.