In my early 20s I had a conversation with two of my girlfriends about one of the girls’ boyfriend. She had made the comment he was taking antipsychotic medication for a mental illness.
In my infinite knowledge and wisdom, I said something along the lines of “You should dump him. That’s a red flag!” And I laughed. The other girl, a pharmacist, said, “Dude, you’re taking antipsychotics.” I stopped laughing. It was true. I had been dealing with depression for a few years by then yet I still laughed and judged another for doing the same thing I was. When you’re young and stupid, you’re young and stupid.
But there’s a bit more to that story. What I wrongly said and did — that’s the stigma of depression talking and it talks a lot, even to this day.
Did I truly think that guy was psychotic or “crazy?” I must have and must’ve thought he was less of a person for being mentally ill. I’m ashamed for that.
It doesn’t really make sense I would do that given that I was mentally ill and embarrassed to even tell my parents I was suffering.
Throughout my life, starting as early as middle school, I had exhibited signs of an anxiety disorder, and later in high school, depression. It all came to a head in college when me beloved grandmother died. Even then, when it’s understandable to experience great sadness, I kept my depression and anxiety to myself.
It would be almost a decade later when I finally admitted to my mom I struggled. There was really no way to hide it anymore because I was experiencing severe postpartum depression. When my youngest was 2, I had reached a breaking point and entered into an inpatient psychiatric program at The Menninger Clinic.
I hadn’t told many people that I was going but while I was there it suddenly occurred to me that I had nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of.
I tell this story because the stigma of depression is so powerful and far reaching. But it is so dangerous to perpetuate, and to not denounce the stigma. People literally die or don’t seek treatment because they think they’re weak, and that “it’s all in their head,” or because they’ve been told depression isn’t a “real disease.” Let me assure you, it is — a debilitating one.
Depression is a completely treatable disease, experienced by about 17 million American adults (stats from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 2017). What does it say about our society that instead of helping and supporting more than 17 million people, we’d rather buy into antiquated beliefs and nonsense that depression isn’t real or that it’s some choice to be made? Absolutely nobody would make that choice.
Depression is as real as any other disease. It’s devastating, chronic and sometimes very scary.
So, let’s stop the bullshit. Let’s educate people about mental illness and end the judgement that comes hand-and-hand with the diagnosis.
Below are hurtful stereotypes that perpetuate the stigma:
- Happy people can’t have depression
- People with depression aren’t mentally tough
- Depression isn’t a real disease
- Depression and sadness are the same thing
- Antidepressants change your personality
- Depression is all in your head
- Depression is a choice
- You can just “Snap out of it”
People can literally die when we help perpetuate these lies about depression. It has to stop. Help end the stigma by reading more about depression here.
Let’s do better and be better. There’s too much at stake not to.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website here. You are not alone.