In spite of the enormous progress in medicine, there is very little progress in people’s mentality regarding mental health. The stigma of mental illness is still alive. As a result, not only we struggle with the illness itself, but also with the shame that comes attached to it, with discrimination, and judgmental attitude.
When you share with your friends that you have cancer, they are very likely to show you love, support, and compassion. With mental illnesses, it just doesn’t work. From those who never experienced depression, you will probably hear that your freakin’ out and you should get a grip on yourself. That’s why people find talking about their mental illnesses so embarrassing, and shame stands in a way to recovery.
The Stigma of Mental Illness
According to the dictionary, stigma is a “mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. Even though we no longer attribute mental health issues to demonic possessions, the stigma of mental illness is still present and leads to social exclusion, discrimination at a workplace, and undermines the treatment.
It takes a lot of courage to publicly admit that you are mentally ill. What will people think? I guess that many folks envision the mental issues with scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As if we were a bunch of hysterical freaks and wacky retards.
Sharing with you lots of very personal stuff on this blog gives me the courage to keep fighting. And by sharing, I don’t mean showing off my bad mood or publishing depressing statuses on Facebook, but rather tell my friends in a private face-to-face conversation, or inspire others to keep their heads above water.
But I also have my doubts sometimes. Should I keep blogging and put the photo of my face? Can this harm me in any way later in life? I choose to take this risk, even though it scares me too. Here are the reasons I am not ashamed of my depression, and why you shouldn’t be either.
Depression is not a weakness
Nobody thinks that having cancer is a weakness, so why would depression be considered as such? In fact, I got depressed because I wanted too much and pretended to be strong. I suppressed my emotions and assumed more responsibility that I could handle, which eventually led to a breakdown.
When your sick mind tells you that the world would be much better off without you, you need a lot of strength to stay alive and just keep going.
And yet, I’m still here, refusing to give up. Depression made me stronger than ever. Why would anyone call it a weakness?
Depression is not a flaw of character
Depression is a flaw in brain chemistry, not character. I am not nuts, bonkers, or mad. It’s something that happened to me, but it doesn’t define me in any way.
I can’t stress it enough: I am worthy of love and belonging regardless of my mental health issues. My worth has nothing to do with a temporary problem that I’m dealing with.
It hurts when people tell me that I’m lazy, unreliable, unmotivated, or dumb, especially when I try really hard to do better. But I know that it isn’t me. Procrastination, poor cognitive skills and lack of energy are nothing else but depression symptoms. I may have depression, but it doesn’t have me.
Depression is not my choice
You don’t choose to have appendicitis or cancer, do you? I’ve never chosen to be depressed, and if I was aware how unhappy my decisions would make me, I would go for something completely different. If I could choose to stop being depressed, I would have done it a long time ago… Believe me, I’m working really hard to find my way out of this sh*t black hole. I spent tons of money on therapy and medication, invested in good self-help books and guided meditation programs. I am changing my life to avoid a depression relapse.
Focusing on shame or guilt instead of action is counterproductive.
The real question is: can I take any advantage of this? What did I learn about myself thanks to depression?
Depression may happen to anyone
You’re neither the first nor the last one. It’s actually pretty common, like dandruff or flu. Over 350 million people worldwide of all races, ages, and different material statuses suffer from depression. Every year, one in four persons is affected by some mental illness. It may hit you even if you have a seemingly happy life, a great family, and have achieved what we call success. It may appear out of nowhere, or strike you as a side effect or other diseases.
It’s much more common than we think, we just don’t see it because mentally ill people keep hiding in the closet with their fear and shame, pretending to be okay. Hence so many unexpected suicides of people who “had it all”, and yet chose to end their existence.
Depression made me change my life for better
Thanks to depression I went to therapy, where I learned a lot about myself and my emotions. I understood that I don’t have to be perfect because I’m good enough. I’m definitely more empathetic and I take better care of my inner child. Knowing the abyss of despair, I can appreciate better the peaceful, happy moments.
In short, I learned the lesson and applied it to my life, so all this suffering wasn’t in vain.
Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness…
Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable or unworthy, and it is something all humans experience. You don’t have to feel shame to by paralyzed by it, though. Stigma and shame go hand in hand, and the only way to neutralize them is to talk with courage and compassion about what we find shameful. The famous shame researcher from the University of Houston Brené Brown sums it up in her book The Gifts of Imperfection:
Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows.
The stigma of mental illness generates more shame, and shame prevents people from starting their treatment. Many of the suicides could have been prevented if people had admitted they had a mental health problem and had received the help they needed.
As Brené Brown points out, there are four elements of shame resilience that will make shame lose control over your life:
Talk about it.
Own your story.
Tell the story.
If you are willing to share yours to inspire other depression sufferers and help me fight the stigma of mental illness, this is the place. Send it to email@example.com.
I wish you the courage to speak up about your mental health issues and overcome the obstacles. Life is waiting for you. Don’t miss it.
PS. If you’re interested in Brené Brown’s research about shame and how to cultivate shame resilience, you should definitely read I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”.
PPS. Not disclosing my full name is a precaution I have to take because I’m too easy to google out – just in case somebody ever wants to use it against me.