The stigma of depression

It is still not OK to talk about depressed children. When you have a child who is depressed you cover up, you make excuses, you lie. Anything but tell people he is suffering from depression. Why? In our case I could say that we wanted to spare our son embarrassment and that sounds noble, right? But why should he be embarrassed? Is it because we are embarrassed? Do we think that others  will blame us for our child’s depression? Sadly, they might. But that is their problem. We can’t control that.

By keeping things secret we are just adding to the shame that the depressed feel.  Would it have helped Malcolm if we had been more open about his depression?  If he had been diagnosed with diabetes, would we have kept that from his cousins and grandparents and teachers? No! We would have wanted them to know, so they could help support his healthy behavior and look out for signs of  any medical crises.

I have diabetes, Type II. I take medicine twice a day and I know that if I don’t manage my blood sugar levels I am putting myself at greater risk for heart attack, stroke, blindness and limb amputation in my future. I don’t fight taking my diabetes medicine. But my depression medicine? That’s another story. I struggle all the time. “If I were a strong enough person and more in control I could do without it.”  “I don’t need it any more, I am feeling better.”  It is so easy to dismiss depression as something I can control, “if I put my mind to it.” Even though I know that depression like diabetes is a bio-chemical issue. Regardless of whether one has “emotional issues” depression is, by the time it manifests, a bio-chemical problem as well. Even with therapy, an adjustment in one’s body chemistry is usually going to be necessary. One’s chemistry has to get re-aligned; one’s serotonin levels have to get adjusted up. Maybe your body will be able to sustain the appropriate levels once it has readjusted, but for many people, like myself, medicine is necessary long-term. I know because I have tried multiple times to do without, only to discover that, yes, it really does make a difference in how well I can cope and how low my mood gets.

I hate myself for needing antidepressants; I don’t hate myself for needing diabetes medicine. What’s the difference? Again I come back to the issue of shame. I feel that I am judged by society as being “responsible” for being depressed. As if it is a character weakness. But because I am not morbidly obese, and therefore not obviously “responsible” for my sugar levels being abnormal, society doesn’t judge my diabetes as a character flaw. The truth is, both probably have a genetic cause to some extent, and my behavior has certainly contributed to my developing diabetes. On the other hand I have done nothing to “cause” my depression.

So, what am I saying? I am saying we need to redefine our attitudes to depression. We need to be supportive of family members who are depressed and not communicate any shame messages. Ask them how they want to deal with telling people, but encourage them to share information with others in order to get support. Don’t encourage secrets because that suggests to them that you are ashamed of their depression. Let them know clearly that you are not ashamed, and if secrecy is their choice, you will comply only because they want it, not because you do.  Of course, if you have been hiding your own depression it is hard to support this attitude convincingly. So maybe the first course of action is to be honest about your own illness, if you suffer too. Joining a support group, getting on medication, and or getting into therapy yourself can model a good attitude towards depression. You don’t want to share your “issues” with your children but you can show them that depression is a medical condition that one need not be ashamed of.  And you need to keep telling yourself until you really believe it.

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One response to “The stigma of depression

  1. This is brilliant, Mo. You should try and get an article published on the topic. People need to hear what you have to say.

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