I remember a time when the word “depression” conjured up images of people who were in an asylum wearing straight jackets while getting their “shock treatments,” as their doctors considered doing lobotomies on them. The general public had little understanding of what depression was, so there was a terrible stigma attached to the illness. That stigma caused (and still causes) many people who desperately needed help to refuse to so much as admit that they had a problem. Though not as severe now, that stigma still exists. There is much more understanding of depression by most people in today’s society than there was in days gone by, but not nearly enough.
To many people, depression is seen as weakness. People who have never suffered the effects of clinical depression do not understand why someone who is depressed can’t just “shake it off.” My mom used to tell me, “You need to just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep on walking.” What she meant was that I was being self-absorbed and brooding, and I needed to snap out of it. She had never been clinically depressed, so there was no way she could know what I was going through. She seemed to be ashamed of the fact that I wasn’t able to “just get over it.” Because of the stigma, she didn’t want people to know that I was seeing a therapist and taking medication. She didn’t understand that the therapy and medication might have saved my life.
Depression isn’t weakness, or laziness, or lack of ambition. It isn’t being “no good,” or “a loser.” It isn’t “those people” or “the undesirables.” Depression is a debilitating mental and physical illness which can be very serious—even life-threatening—but it can be treated and people with depression can improve greatly. “Depression” specifically and “mental illness” in general will probably always have some degree of stigma attached to them, but the only way that will ever change is by educating the public. I’ve seen some good public service announcements over the years, but they are few and far between. Some of the ads for antidepressants are informative about the illness, which is good, but it’s not enough (most people just tune ads out). It is up to those who know about depression and mental illness to educate the rest about it. Education is the only way to get rid of the stigma, so help get the word out. Take advantage of every opportunity to squash the stigma.