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Depression: Fighting the Stigma

February 10, 2016

Two high school students recently wrote an article about their squashed efforts to bring mental health issues out into the open at their school. Their voice was heard by The New York Times, which both printed and published the article “Depressed, But Not Ashamed” online. The students’ opinion has sparked debate and support. Karyn Feit, LCSW, a Council therapist who specializes in treating teenagers, weighed in on the topic:

As someone with personal experience of depression, a family history of depression and bipolar disorder, and a therapist who specializes in working with teens, I know all too well the danger of keeping the experience of depression “in the closet”.  The two young women who co-authored this article attempted to bravely shed light on just how common depression is among teens.  I am often angered by the efforts of some to silence these voices, which I believe, if given the attention they deserve, can alter the lives of others.  The response of their liberal Michigan school’s administrators shows how many still lack the education to recognize that by sharing their stories, these young people learn that it is okay, and actually a demonstration of great strength, to be able to disclose the details of their lives.  While there is always the risk that these youth will be bullied or misunderstood by their peers, we can teach them to assert themselves and educate others, instead of being ashamed of living with a tremendously common illness.

If we compare this to the efforts of some to keep struggling youth questioning their sexuality in the closet, we repeatedly see the harm that can be caused by forcing youth to keep quiet. Teens who are not accepted by family and friends, and labeled by others as “different and therefore deficient” are at a greater risk than others of dying by suicide. Recent research has shown evidence that ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder show  differences in the brains of people struggling with these diseases. Adults do not do anyone justice by keeping these very real and very treatable diseases in the closet. In our efforts to protect children and teens, we should allow the youth who choose to disclose, to do so with support and faith that they will get better.