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The Stigma of Depression

Whilst significant inroads have been made worldwide to alleviate the stigma of depression, it still exists. And for many people with depression, the cost is high. Those with depression often suffer in silence, can be chronically lonely and isolated. It is the latter - isolation - that which removes people into a dark world of loneliness which exacerbates their darkness; it is a world away from the world that those without depression live in.

Often a person living with depression will put on a mask of joy for the world around them, a mask of 'I'm alright thanks', a mask of acceptability and an outward mask of coping with life, just like everyone else. These are often masks to hide shame or their acute embarrassment at feeling the way that they feel.

Society has much to answer for: much to hold it responsible for this shame that many are carrying. For society still celebrates the strong, the invulnerable, the person who seemingly copes all the time, who 'succeeds'.

These things are advertised as being what people want, indeed need, to survive in a complex, competitive world. But there is deep strength in saying who you really are. In admitting to vulnerability. To saying 'No I'm not really coping today...indeed, I'm not really coping at all'.

To stand and admit depression is the first step in standing up and showing strength through vulnerability. There is no shame in 'appearing' weak. We all have times of weakness, but those who live with depression often have those times so much more frequently, so much more deeply.

Asking for help is usually a stage that a person living with depression goes through and yet society relishes the opportunity to promote strength as not asking for help. And so the stigma of depression subsists.

The reality is that at times in the lives of all people, there is nothing stronger than acknowledging our vulnerability, our hurt, our acute sensitivity.

Men are often the first to be victim of how society works - 'Be a man', 'Don’t cry - that's for girls', 'Oh come on, man-up'. It is part of the psyche of society that men must 'cope' at any cost. And, of course, this is not to say that women are not cast in a similar mould, but there is something about 'being a real man, a strong man' that is ingrained in men. For the person living with depression it is this societal expectation that makes them ashamed of their core feelings when depressed. Their negative emotions become even more ingrained.

The reality is that at times in the lives of all people, there is nothing stronger than acknowledging our vulnerability, our hurt, our acute sensitivity. The person living with depression is caught by themselves in an often superficial world which thrives on success, moving forward, admit that we cry, that we are experiencing difficult feelings and emotions can be deeply painful, but is the key to working through the problems that come with depression.

Sadly it is the very stigma associated with depression that isolates those living with depression. This only fuels the depression. All people benefit from talking through their issues and problems and concerns. Those living with depression are no different. To be denied that opportunity pushes them deeper into a world of darkness.

Someone close to me overheard the comments of a 13 year old girl to her friend: 'I am so depressed - Mark doesn't like me and I am so into him'. The word 'depression' can be used so frequently as a substitute for sadness, feeling just a little bit 'blue'.

Depression - often clinical depression - is not just sadness. It is a whole complex set of emotions and physiological reactions in the body. And the expression of these deep emotions and this oppressive condition can lead some people to get annoyed or bored with the outpouring of a person who lives with depression. It is here that the stigma of depression resides.

But it is here that something can be done to help those suffering: learn to listen to a person living with depression. Their thoughts and feelings may not be like yours and may challenge you, but they are real to that person all the same. Learn to patient, to be understanding and loving.

Depending on the relationship you have with a person living with depression, say you love them: 'I love you and it is so difficult for me to watch you like this...I can't imagine how hard this must be for you...'

And persevere - depression often does not lift in a day, a week, a month - keep in close contact and continually challenge the stigma that people living with depression are weak. Comfort these people and see that their sharing with you is strong, brave and courageous. Learn that there is no stigma with depression; there is, rather, misunderstanding.

Fighting depression begins with one simple act: fight the stigma.

If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this article, you can contact the Samaritans here.

Author's Bio


Andrew is a trained counsellor with about 25 years' experience of supporting people. He has a counselling practice in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia, specialising in supporting people with moods that are more variable than they might like. He is interested in people discovering their strengths and working creatively through whatever issues they might have.

You can contact Andrew via his website

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