“So why do some say that about depression?”
This was a slogan found in an advertisement recently put out by several nationally recognized mental health groups and placed in Esperanza, a magazine about how to cope with anxiety and depression.
No one would ever imagine telling someone with any physical disease to just, “get over it”, but for some reason, many people feel that mental illnesses are different. That, with just a little will power, you can combat it on your own.
This grabbed my attention because at Erika’s Lighthouse, we talk about the impact of stigma, and how it is the single biggest obstacle we face in educating and advocating for youth struggling with depression.
The fact of the matter is, whether it is a disease of high levels of glucose in the blood, like diabetes, or low levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, like depression, we’re talking about diseases that are beyond our control and require professional care. These are not diseases we can wish away and they are certainly not our fault.
So, why do people carry these outdated and non-fact-based attitudes about mental illness? Well, for starters, think about how many times you have seen a commercial for heart disease, have participated in some kind of fundraiser for cancer, or heard someone outwardly speak about their diabetes. We are constantly reminded of the seriousness of these diseases, how we can prevent them, and to be empathetic towards those who have the diagnosis. We are taught about many physical diseases in school and it is a common part of our health vocabulary.
Now, think about how many times you have seen a commercial about mental illness that wasn’t a commercial for an anti-depressant or other psychotropic drug. Did you learn that depression is common and treatable when you were in school? Did someone arrange for a survivor of mental illness to come talk to your health class? Probably not. Most of the messages we receive about mental illness are usually fear-based, non-factual and place people with mental illness on the periphery of society as people to fear and someone you hope to never become.
I want to be clear. This is not a rant about how we shouldn’t focus our time and energy on raising awareness of physical illnesses, or even a suggestion that these diseases are not serious, life threatening or that we should be less empathetic. Quite the contrary. The point is that we should carry this same attitude, this same level of awareness, care and empathy towards people who struggle with all kinds of diseases, including mental illness.
Depression is a common, serious and treatable disease that impacts millions of people and effects the chemicals in your brain that cause you to feel, think and behave out of character. This disease leaves you feeling sad, irritable, guilty and hopeless with no logical explanation. It is confusing and scary to go through alone, and most do go through it alone out of shame and fear of being ostracized.
It is not your fault, you are not alone, there is help and hope. These are the messages people with depression deserve to hear.
So, if you’re reading this and you feel just as passionate as we do about spreading this information to people, post it to Facebook, tweet about it, share it with your friends and family. Another amazing organization doing this work is Bring Change to Mind, so check them out.
The only way to combat mental health stigma and improve the lives of so many is to be an active part of the solution and spread awareness.