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Fighting Stigma

As someone who has been fighting mental illness, I could give many examples of the stigma we face. Sadly, people aren’t often willing to try to understand how their behavior is wrong and try to change.  I want you to know that you are not alone if you are dealing with stigma or discrimination.  Here are some things that have been said to me:

  1. “You can’t recover from depression.” Some so-called “friends” in college were militantly insistent that recovery from depression is impossible, to the point of cornering both me and another dear friend (who was recovered from depression!) to argue it further. I find few things more disgusting than people who try to extinguish the hope of others, especially with such blatant lies. Even more, this assertion on their part demonstrated their belief that depression was something inherently wrong with who I was as a person, rather than a diagnose-able and treatable medical condition.  Please know, dear one, that recovery is very real.  Sometimes it takes time to find the right combinations of treatments, and sometimes the journey is long and hard.  But recovery, and hope, are real.
  2. “If you’re on medication, you aren’t recovered.” Umm, no? I am recovered BECAUSE I am on medication. I have a chemical imbalance. It’s like a vitamin deficiency (which I also have). When I take my vitamins, I no longer have the deficiency.  Medication can be a very valuable tool in the fight against depression.  You are not weak if you need it.
  3. Similarly, “If you are seeing a counselor, there is something wrong with you.” The college I was at had free counseling services. Literally anyone could go to them to talk about anything. So even given their other deeply held stigma, this one lacks rationale. Not to mention how terrible it is to perpetuate the belief that an ILLNESS is a personal flaw.  Counseling is a positive and helpful thing!  It is should not be wrong to get help!
  4. “How come you listen to your counselor more than to us? We’re your FRIENDS.” Yeah… this one made it pretty clear that no, they weren’t really friends. Scarily enough, they wanted me to value their opinions (which were completely detached from the scientific facts of my diagnosis and treatment) over the guidance and advice of trained professionals.  Those who have your best interests at heart will value your recovery and the support of medical professionals even if they don’t understand it.
  5. “See? You’re still depressed.” This one came after long, drawn-out lectures about how one can’t recover from depression. My friend who was recovered at the time, finally cracked under the barrage that she couldn’t get away from and cried in frustration, which the assailants then twisted as evidence that she couldn’t get better. This, folks, is EMOTIONAL ABUSE, and it is very, very WRONG. You do not deserve to be treated like that, and if there are people in your life who treat you that way, they don’t deserve to be a part of your life.

I’ll add a list of stigma I have personally experienced and witnessed as a person with mental illness. Please, please, know that these are wrong when someone does them to you, and examine yourself to make sure you never inflict them on others!

  • You should be able to “snap out of it” or “pull yourself together” and if you can’t, there’s something wrong with you. Depression is very real and is not something anyone can just snap out of.
  • Being diagnosed with depression should make you an instant expert on the illness so that you will never inconvenience anyone else, and if you aren’t an instant expert or happen to accidentally inconvenience someone by trusting them, you are a bad person. This is ridiculous. If you are a healthy person who says you care about a person with depression, but the inconveniences of that person trying to understand and heal from an illness are too much for you, you’re a jerk.
  • Conversely, if you have depression your opinion on anything is no longer taken into consideration. Your emotions aren’t valid because of depression, and your feelings are never real and thus don’t matter. Again, this is ridiculous. Even if your feelings are not always what they would normally be, they are always real to you. You deserve to be respected as a person. Your opinions still matter.
  • It’s okay to treat someone with depression as “less than.” NO. You are just as valuable and deserving of love as anyone else.
  • Depression is a topic that is up for debate and personally decided, not a scientific or medical issue. Do I even have to contradict this one? It’s an illness. There is scientific research. People need to stop being bigoted and ignorant.
  • People with depression are not worthy of the same respect and communication as people without depression. A person’s a person, no matter what illness(es) they may or may not have!
  • It’s okay to talk behind someone’s back, lie to them, and treat them as inferior if they have depression. No. Why would anyone of those things ever be okay for anyone???
  • People with depression just want attention. In my experience, the last thing most people with depression want is attention drawn to them by their illness. If I ask you for help because of my depression, I must be pretty freaking desperate.
  • Seeking help for depression is a sign of weakness. A huge NO to this! Seeking help is one of the bravest and strongest decisions I (and many others I know with similar diagnoses) have ever made.

To sum up: It is terrible to treat someone badly because of an illness of any kind, including mental illnesses, but it happens ALL THE TIME. Please be part of the solution, not part of the problem! And if you are fighting a mental illness, please know that you do not deserve to be mistreated, and the stigma is not your fault.

Love and prayers!

 

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