As one of the most common mental health disorders and a leading cause of disability, clinical depression affects almost 350 million people globally. While depression is a serious and debilitating disease that can lead to suicide, less than half of those who experience its effects seek treatment.
Let that sink in. Less than 50% of individuals with serious depression receive treatment. Millions of people have no help as they suffer.
One of the major barriers to treatment is the social stigma of depression. We often hear loved ones – despite meaning well – say things like “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” or “You just have to get over it” without fully understanding the shame and judgment these words impose.
The stigma surrounding depression and mental illness is powerful and far-reaching. The negative perception of how an individual with depression looks and behaves is implemented at individual, institutional, and societal levels. People who experience mental health disorders not only have to live with their illness and find proper access to services, but they also have to handle the negative judgment about their condition.
How do we expect people with depression to improve if we offer them no hope? If we continue to label them, facilitate shame, guilt, and classify them as “other?”
Millions of people are ashamed of being depressed. They feel isolated and ostracized by their friends and families. They are judged in the workplace and are treated differently. They believe their issues are indicative of weakness and failure. They see no hope, no reason to ask for help.
As a result, stigma is a very real threat to recovery.
So how can you help reduce stigma?
- Education: 1 in 4 people live with a mental health disorder. Though people discriminate, mental illness does not. It can affect people of any age, ethnicity, religion, sex, or financial status. We are all touched in some way by its effects.Learn as much as you can to dispel many of the myths that surround mental health issues, especially depression.
- Exposure: If you or someone you know is living with depression, let your voice be heard. Contribute to a dialogue that sheds light on reality and casts stereotypes into the dark. Sharing your experience and knowledge is instrumental in allowing others to learn and feel comforted by the fact that they are not alone.
- Support: Respect the rights of people with depression. Do not discriminate against them and do not perpetuate negative stereotypes. Do your best to support by respecting the dignity of every person and contributing to the development of community resources.