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Depression and Mental Illness: Can the Stigma be changed?
You walk into the grocery store and run into someone you know.
“Oh,” they say, “How nice to see you! How have you been?”
“I’ve been depressed,” you say. “The doctor just prescribed me a new medication, and they’re putting me on a clinical trial that should help.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that,” the person says sincerely, “My co-worker suffers from clinical depression. I hope that the clinical trial goes well! I’ll be thinking of and praying for you.”
A few other shoppers overhear your conversation. Most of them flash kindly smiles, but one makes a snide remark. Immediately, another shopper stands up for you.
“Don’t say that,” they protest, “Millions of people suffer from depression. It’s a real illness and the sufferers are people just like you and me; no one is immune.”
Imagine a world where people reacted to depression just as they would react to a serious physical illness, like diabetes or cancer. While it is true that these physical illnesses are quite different, and sensitivity should be used when comparing them, why can’t we give the same love to patients with mental illness and patients with physical illness?
If you went to the hospital and visited someone who had a heart attack because of eating a diet high in cholesterol and not exercising, you probably wouldn’t berate the person or look down on him because of it; you wouldn’t agree with the choices, but you would embrace the person for who they are and where they are at. Instead, you would give the person well-wishes, try and cheer them, and not define them by the fact that they just had a heart attack.
In contrast, if you heard that someone is severely depressed because of eating an unbalanced diet and not exercising, you might view that person differently. You might give him a look, or if not that, think unapproving or judgmental thoughts about the person. You might think or say critical things such as, “Get over it,” or “If you hadn’t made such bad choices this wouldn’t have happened.” You might begin to see the person as foolish. If the person was hospitalized, when you went to visit them, if you were to go at all, there would be awkward silence in the room. There might even be rumors started about how “crazy” the person was. The patient would want to keep his hospitalization a secret, and you, or someone else, might begin to define the person by his problems.
14.8 million Americans have depression (this does not even include children and teens who suffer from it)
More than 350 million people around the world experience clinical depression.
Depression is the world's leading cause of disability.
It can be caused by genetics, physical illness,and trauma.
No one is immune..
How many people know these facts?
Many people are good, genuinely caring individuals; they are not bad people, and they do not mean to be intentionally insensitive or spiteful-they are simply unaware. They are not unintelligent; but uninformed. These people may talk about matters that they don’t understand. They can’t bring themselves to contemplate why someone would "choose" a life of depression,or of related and cormid illness, such as anorexia, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Because they have always been able to control their moods and impulses, they naturally believe that others should be able to, as well.
Others are deliberately blunt and hurtful at times; they do not care what other people hear them say, or think seriously about how it might affect someone. Their opinion is set strong, and they do not intend to let anyone make them think otherwise. No amount of arguing or debating will convince them. With these people, it is better not to spend too much time persuading or disputing.
Still, others have grown up with a certain view. Perhaps, they have grown up believing that physciatry is peculiar and hazardous, that mental illness is strictly a choice, and that a person’s character is defined by their emotional well-being. Some of these views may even be based on experiences they or their families have had. For example, if someone has a bad experience with a physiatrist, where they were given faulty advice or the physiatrist was a bit strange, they may become convinced that there is no helpful physcological treatment out there. If they were told by their parents, relatives, or friends that depression is a sin, or they live in a society, where the levels of stigma are high, they are less likely to look at mental illness differently.
There are some people that you will never be able to change; however, you can give them the opportunity to re-think their philosophies, and become aware. Why try at all? Because some people will change. Some will develop an understanding or even sympathy for those suffering. In turn, people will be more likely to reach out for help sooner and less likely to suffer in silence. This is one of the reasons why awareness is so important.
As acknowledged, there are people that cannot be changed; even groups of people. In those cases, equipping those who are victims of depression or mental illness, or are sympathetic to people they know who experience from such illnesses, with consolation, resources, and affirmation, is more effective. About 1 in 5 teenagers experience depression. This means, that at almost every high school there are at least a few individuals who understand the impact and the very real struggle the illness brings to everyday life. However, because of the stigma, and because of reasonable fear of being looked down on or scoffed at, they remain quiet. But what would happen if these individuals could come together? What would happen if they began supporting each other, standing up for each other and for mental health advocacy? What would happen if they, as team, were to go on a mission to raise awareness?
Will the scenario at the beginning of this article ever come true? We don’t know. But hopefully, as time goes on and more and more people take a stand, the situation will improve as it has in the past. We have come a long ways from a century ago, when the mentally ill were all stereotyped and openly referred to as “insane,” “Crazy,” or “lunatics.” Drugs and more effective treatment methods have been developed. Mental hospitals in the United States have greatly improved, considering at one time they were run-down and jail-like, and residents were treated as prisoners. We must not fail to remember these enhancements, so that we can be encouraged by them. The fact that there have been great improvements in the past means that there can be great improvements in the future.
For now, we dream of the world being a better place for those who live with paralyzing, frightening mental illnesses and depression, and we muster up our courage to, slowly, but surely, perhaps not in public or obvious ways, take a stand.