How Stigma Impacts People Experiencing Depression

Staff Therapist Ryan McMillian, MDiv, MFT is a dynamic speaker and a compassionate Marriage and Family Therapist. He specializes in helping clients identify strengths to cope with past traumas, guiding clients through transitions and personal losses including, and assisting clients experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Ryan is trained in Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT).

The day begins as a dark cloud hovers above your head. Motivation is out of reach, and completing tasks, while on the agenda, seems impossible. Family and friends with good intentions attempt to encourage with words that lack understanding like “just do something today” or “look on the bright side.” Social isolation becomes a friend, as you hardly want to burden others with persistent sadness or endure inner exhaustion via putting on a mask and pretending to be happy. The fact that you’re unable to “just do something” or “look on the bright side” activates an inner critic that reminds you of your shortcomings. The painful inner exchange and turmoil leads to a downward spiral, deplete of hope and motivation. You feel trapped, and escape appears to be the only option whether it is playing video games, indulging in comfort food or sleeping.

This is reality for an increasing number of people. According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index, there was a 47 percent increase of persons 18-34 with a depression diagnosis and a 63 percent increase for adolescents 12 to 17. With NBA players and coaches like Tyrone Lue, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love sharing their personal struggles, destigmatizing depression has entered the national conversation. Awareness is building and people are growing more open to getting help. However with the recent high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, we are reminded of this stark reality that many people are still facing.

Many people with depression go to work every day, and by society’s standards have achieved professional and financial success. Yet, their inner experience is less than ideal. Feelings of hopelessness grow like unwelcome weeds in a garden. Due to the stigma, a person showing symptoms of depression often has to choose between being potentially shamed for sharing their experience or holding it all in and not telling anyone. Help is always available, but in a society that stigmatizes these struggles, it can feel like there is nowhere and no one to turn to.

Here are several reasons we need to destigmatize depression and suicide:

Stigma prevents conversation.

Where there is no communication, people often feel alone. To be alone in suffering only magnifies it. Dr. Beth Angell, SSA Professor at the University of Chicago, observed in her research that those diagnosed with a mental illness hold the same stereotypes about the condition as the general public and she adds, “It’s threatening to their self-esteem, and they fear that other people can detect it in them.” Therefore, it leads to isolation when support is necessary.

Stigma makes it less likely that people will seek help.

When a person feels their diagnosis will impact their employment, relationship or feel s/he will be viewed as weak, a person will opt to live in pain rather than ask for help. Stigmas create distance between pain and relief.

Stigmas promote misconceptions.

Education can help people make more informed decisions about their mental health. With the prevailing misconceptions about depression and suicide, those who need the education may not receive it. I believe we all need the education, because depression and suicide is closer to us than we may think.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

At Council for Relationships, we are committed to destigmatizing depression and suicide and work toward helping people find relief in a nonjudgmental space. If you’re interested in trying therapy, you can learn more about our services, browse our therapist directory, or request an appointment today.