No one wants to talk about it. Yet it’s very common and affects so many people. “Shh. Don’t talk about that, Lauren. People will think you’re crazy.”
So there’s this thing called a chemical imbalance in the brain. Maybe you’ve heard about it? Apparently, it’s called science.
Let’s face it. No matter what you say, certain people will always attach a stigma to mental illness. You have a heart attack? Cool, you’re covered. Insurance covers you. Your family and friends send you balloons and flowers and “Hey, get well soon.”
That’s great. People should care.
But you have depression? Maybe you’re suicidal? You get strange glances, awkward responses, and uncomfortable remarks. I mean, I get it. It’s a prickly subject to approach. No one wants to talk about it.
But when you say things like “But you have so much going for you! How in the world can you be so depressed?!”, that implies many things:
- Your depression makes me uncomfortable.
- I don’t get you. This is weird.
- You are kind of an ungrateful person. What’s wrong with you?
- I’m not sure if our friendship will be the same because now I don’t know how to act.
This is all understandable. Someone who has never experienced depression (especially severe, suicidal depression) might not easily understand these things because they have never experienced them. And of course, if they love you, they mean well.
But none of these implied messages make a depressed person feel any better. How could they? We are essentially hearing: “Why are you so ungrateful?”; “What’s wrong with you?”; “You are a weak person.”; “You’re so negative, try a little harder.” These messages do not make someone who is depressed feel any better, think more positively, or change their actions.
What is truly crazy to me is that mental illness still has such a huge stigma. Have cancer? Great, insurance will cover many of the costs and your friends and family feel okay talking about it with other people. Have depression? Those close to you might want to keep it a secret out of embarrassment. Or because they don’t want other people to judge you. Your insurance may not cover anything. In fact, some inpatient programs cost up to $50,000 per month, often not including psychological testing, certain medical services, and other additional fees. You are essentially paying what could possibly be someone’s entire yearly salary for a room. For four weeks!
This is what is truly insane. How can you expect someone to get better when the financial aspect seems insurmountable? Many people who are mentally ill either do not work, do not have insurance or both. What kind of health care system is America running? But that’s another issue.
Then there’s the job factor. Anyone with depression will tell you that it affects your work performance. Depression affects you in your daily life, so how could it not? But it’s not like the flu, where you can call in sick because you are physically ill. Maybe your depression has reared its ugly head one morning and you can’t manage to get out of bed. You can’t call your employer and say “Hey, I’m feeling sad so I won’t be coming in today.” I mean, you can — if you don’t care how it will affect your reputation at work.
You can lie, of course. But why should you have to? It just adds to the list of stressors a depressed person has to cope with. Depression is a legitimate illness and should be treated as such. Employers may not be legally able to fire you if you tell them you have depression. But it still carries a stigma, and they could let you go for “other reasons.”
The thing is, I can write this. And people might say, “Why in the world would she say this? Why not keep it to yourself?” No, I won’t. Because it’s something that’s not my fault, something that is a legitimate health issue that America fails to deal with successfully (and really, not just America — the world). And it is something that other people can possibly relate to and maybe help them feel a tiny bit better.
I’ve been severely depressed. I’ve been suicidal. I’ve done stupid things. What needs to change is the health care system and the attitudes people have about mental health. There should be no stigma. There should be support.
Some people might think, “But he or she doesn’t look depressed!” Depression doesn’t have a face. Depression can be your hilarious colleague from work; that supermodel on the billboard; your brother or sister who has gotten so used to hiding it that you never even knew. Us “depressees” can become quite good at pretending because society has taught us that depression is something we should be ashamed of. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” if you will.
How silly. No one is an island. Everyone needs help at some point. Often, the hardest part is asking for help. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I tend to think therapy can help anyone, even those without “severe” issues. I understand that some people want to be warriors. “I don’t need anyone. I can do this on my own.” That’s great, if it works for you. But that doesn’t give you the right to judge people who do need extra help.
But what do I know? I’m just a girl with depression who is trying to navigate through life, just like everyone else. Maybe sometimes, it’s just a little bit harder.
Compassion is a good thing. I try to have it for other people, no matter what they are going through. Like they say, you haven’t walked in that person’s shoes.
Depression isn’t weakness. It’s an illness. I think this message will make itself clearer as more people feel free to talk about it.
So here I am, talking about it. Stigmatize me, fool.