One in four. That’s the number of people in the world the World Health Organization (WHO) says will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. This statistic tells us depression can occur at any time, and it can affect anyone. The World Health Organization also reports depression stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding are factors that actually prevents people from accessing treatment.
What is Depression Stigma?
Depression stigma is dangerous combination of prejudiced attitudes and assumptions, which can be divided into two types
- Social stigma, formed around prejudiced attitudes that others have around depression;
- Self-perceived, or internalized stigma (self-stigma), which the person with depression suffers from.
Understanding Depression Stigma
Lack of understanding greatly exacerbates what is already a debilitating struggle. My own lack of understanding caused me to believe the unhelpful attitudes of others towards my illness.
Once I identified the internalized stigma, I was able to focus on cultivating more effective coping strategies.
How Does Depression Stigma Feel?
The stigma around depression intensifies what is already a very isolating illness. When I”m in the midst of a depressive episode, my thoughts cycle around feelings of guilt, failure, and regret.
The voice of depression triggers feelings of failure and depression stigma intensifies what is already a painfully vicious cycle of negative emotion.
The Harmful Effects of Depression Stigma?
Depression stigma can lead to discrimination, which contributes to a depressed person’s suffering.
Discrimination can play out in two ways, it can be
- Direct and obvious, such as someone making an insensitive, negative remark about a person’s mental health.
- Subtle, even unintentional, arising mainly from negative assumptions about mental illness.
The stigma associated with the term “mental illness” is very pervasive. According to the Mayo Clinic some of the harmful effects of stigma include:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment
- The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation
Coping with Depression Stigma
Negative assumptions about mental illness and the associated stigma, almost always stem from a lack of understanding. It’s important to remember these assumptions are NOT based on facts.
One place I encountered a daily dose of depression stigma was on social media. Primarily used to connect and bond with friends and family, my feed had became a confronting and hostile place. Every time I checked in I was bombarded with “triggering” adverts.
Memories and happy images from my life before depression, caused my thought process to loop around sorting myself out. However my inability to return to work I love, meant this particular platform had become a painful reminder of the women I once was.
The sting of depression stigma compounded my thought process. I thought if I could just sort myself out, I would be okay. But depression isn’t about sorting yourself out, depression is a serious and debilitating illness.
I ended up pulling the plug on this particular social platform but if that’s not possible, allow yourself to take a break from social media.
Another helpful way to cope with the ache of depression stigma is through cultivating understanding and deepening your self-awareness, so you can lean into the realization: depression is an illness, it does not define you.
Stopping the Negative Spin of Self-Stigma
A recent study shows an association between depression self-stigma and negative coping mechanisms, such as resignation, self-isolating, and self-criticism. However, these coping strategies actually increase self-stigma.
The study goes on to say use of positive coping may have a positive impact to self-stigma reduction. Some positive coping strategies that I’ve found helpful are talking therapy and mindfulness. Why? Because these therapies powerfully challenge the negative spin depression puts on everything.
The effects of depression stigma in my own life, pushed my mind to the edge of what I thought I could cope with. Stopping the negative spin of self-stigma was something I needed to actively address.
I ended up being admitted as an out-patient in The Priory, for a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and later, Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT). The intensive treatment was immensely helpful in understanding the harmful effects depression stigma.
Depression is NOT a Personal Failure
In a recent survey conducted by St Patricks Health Services (Ireland), two-thirds of respondents said they felt being treated for a mental health issue was a sign of personal failure.
WHO, on releasing the World Health Report, emphatically states depression is not a personal failure:
“Mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders,”
How to Cope with Depression Stigma
Time and again, depression trips me into believing I have some semblance of control over this illness. In some ways, yes, I can mitigate the symptoms. But when I get hooked into the thought of actually conquering depression, it retaliates with a vengeance.
Make Treatment Your First Priority
When you are having a depressive episode, you must remind yourself: depression is not a mood state, it is a serious biochemical medical condition.
There are a number of safe and effective treatments for depression, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and medication. Please don’t let medication-stigma stop you from accessing treatment.
Lean into Acceptance
Learning to accept your condition will free up your energy so you can focus on finding effective treatment and support.
Accepting you have depression is no easy feat. Moving into acceptance about my mental health continues to challenge me. When I practice leaning into acceptance, the mental overwhelm begins to subside.
Connect with Others
Social Isolation is a serious side effect of depression stigma. Do your best to reach out to people you know and trust. Share your mental health concerns with those close to you. Join an online support group or consider attending a support and/or crafting group, where you can try something new.
Don’t equate yourself with your illness
While you may have depression, this illness doesn’t define you. Depression is not a sign of laziness or lack of willpower. When people assume my depression is something that can be snapped out of, or remedied with positive platitudes, it only intensifies my pain.
Let Go of your Expectations around Recovery
While there are effective treatment options, recovery doesn’t have a timeline. Let go of your expectations. Depression is a serious illness that can affect people in so many different ways. While some people are able to manage and have functional days, others may struggle to function at all.
Respect you have choices regarding your privacy and disclosing your mental health status. You can decide who to inform and who not to share this information with.
Three Points to Remember
#1 Depression Tricks the Mind
Depression causes intrusive thoughts that can crash the party at any moment. Don’t beat yourself up when faced with obtrusive thoughts and/or depression stigma.
#2 Depression Doesn’t Discriminate
Depression doesn’t discriminate; it doesn’t care if you are having a good day or the worst day ever.
#3 Accepting You Have Depression is NOT giving up
Accepting you have depression is not giving up, it’s being okay with who you are. Acceptance opens a space for understanding and compassion.
Conclusion: Depression stigma is NOT based on facts
It’s no secret there is a stigma attached to mental illness. But depression doesn’t define you. What depression does is turn up the volume on feelings such as sadness, guilt, and regret. When you have depression, little things seem overwhelming, triggering a vicious cycle to hopelessness and lack of motivation. These symptoms further play into depression stigma, and the cycle continues.
Most people are doing the best they can, but as human beings, we are all prone to making mistakes. It’s important to remember depression stigma is NOT based on facts, rather it condenses symptoms into over-simplistic value judgments.
Depression pushes the mind to extremes. Be kind to yourself you are trying your best in what are very trying circumstances. Own your diagnosis and refuse to allow depression stigma to dictate how you think and feel about yourself. Together we can use our energy to stop the stigma.
Have you experienced depression stigma? Has depression stigma affected you in seeking treatment? What would you like to add to the conversation?
What was your biggest takeaway from this post. Have I missed anything important? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts. Together we can stop the stigma.
Depression Support Lines
Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393 (9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday)
Samaritans on 116 123 (UK), 116 123 (ROI) for confidential support
If you are based in the US, you can call the Crisis Call Center at 1-800-273-8255 at any time of the day