Breaking Depression Stigma: 9 Tips to Help You Cope at Work and at Home
Unfortunately, stigma is something that many individuals with Major Depression struggle with on a daily basis. Understanding the stigma of depression and where it originates from can help you learn how best to cope with, and ultimately overcome, it. This post provides nine practical, applicable strategies forbreaking the cycle of stigma, both within yourself and in your community. These that can help you rise above this particular challenge and move forward into a happier and healthier life.
Walking through the daily struggles of depression can be a full-time job. Reframing your mindset, balancing self-care, and managing to complete all your to-dos for the day requires an unbelievable amount of energy. If you’re living with Major Depressive Disorder, overcoming your obstacles and accomplishing these daily victories should be a reason to celebrate, but the stigma that you face from society, other individuals, and perhaps even yourself adds another obstacle to the journey—one that can be among the most difficult to overcome.
If you’re facing stigma on your path to recovery, know you’re not alone. Unfortunately, prejudice of all kinds seems to be part of the human condition, at least for the time being. But for those with depression, facing discrimination (even from those close to you) can make a tough situation even harder to deal with. Understanding the sources of stigma and developing practical strategies to cope with it can help you to rise above this challenge and move forward into a healthier work and home life.
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Understanding the Stigma of Depression
Nearly 20 years ago, the United States Surgeon General mentioned stigma as one of the largest barriers to mental health care in the entire nation. From medical students who refuse to document their struggles to silent parents who hide their feelings at home, it’s a major reason that depressed individuals aren’t getting the help they need. And perhaps one reason that this particular issue is so powerful is that it’s actually multiple issues rolled into one. Stigma comes from several different sources to impact the individual, and learning how to break free from it involves understanding these different forms.
On a large scale, we can experience stigma from society as a whole. We get caught up in what “they say” and what the news media portrays as mental illness, and research shows that too many people in the United States still hold incredibly hurtful beliefs about those who suffer from depression and other mental health disorders. Stereotypes also exist about the medications and treatment methods involved in recovery. This pervasive attitude leads some employers to discriminate unfairly against those with the disorder, and can even lead to health professionals thinking that their patients have a “bad attitude” instead of a treatable condition.
Even more common is the experience of stigma in personal relationships at home or with friends and colleagues. This is the kind of stigma you may feel when you’re afraid to tell others that you are struggling with a depressive episode, or when you are “repeatedly congratulated for being so brave, even courageous, in talking so openly about depression.” Your friends and family may be unsure of how to respond to you, how to help, and what the truth is that lies beneath society’s stereotypes.
Finally, perhaps because of the stigma you may face elsewhere, you may also experience internalized stigma that comes directly from yourself. Studies have shown that internalized and external stigma have a unique relationship, and that they both influence the way individuals pursue recovery. This is the true burden of someone with depression, because it truly only exists in the mind. These beliefs may lead you to isolate yourself from others, give up on your treatment, and attempt to deal with your disorder alone.
How to Break the Cycle of Stigma
Because a big portion of the stigma you face actually comes from within yourself, it’s a good idea to start challenging your own beliefs. After you address the stigma that you’ve placed on your own shoulders, you can move outward to fight stigma in the world around you. This journey is not an easy one, but the more you speak out, the better the world will understand this aspect of humanity. The following ten steps move from micro to macro and help you to take a stand against depression stigma, within yourself and in your world.
1. Get the Facts.
Know exactly what physiological and psychological causes your depression may have. Understand your symptoms, and learn more about how depression affects others. Educate yourself on treatment methods and how they work. Knowing the truth is the first step toward dispelling harmful rumors.
2. Reframe Your Thinking.
One therapist suggests looking at the label ‘depression’ as not a definition of you as a person, but a way to express how you are suffering, and to “reframe [your] battle against depression as a heroic struggle … because only strong and courageous individuals could bear and ultimately transform such intense pain.” Depression is not the sum total of your identity—it is merely something you experience. Reframing your situation can help you find a new, more positive perspective.
3. Affirm Your Self-Worth.
Depression can come with a heavy burden of shame and guilt, especially when it becomes harder to participate in work, school, or relationships. Use mantras and positive affirmations to remind yourself that you are still a worthy person, or utilize more formal mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques to help keep your spirits up and your perspective balanced and positive. You have incredible strengths that far outshine any of your current limitations.
4. Consider Sharing Your Story.
The DBS Alliance states this point perfectly: “You do not necessarily have to identify yourself as mental health consumer to speak out against stigma, but your personal story may add credibility to your argument. It is your decision whether or not to tell others about your illness.” If you choose to share, start with those closest to you. As your confidence grows, you’ll be able to expand your circle of trust as far as you like.
5. Debunk the Myths.
Be prepared to state the facts about depression when the topic arises in conversation. In a loving manner, calmly disagree with the myths that others may present. The truth is, many caring people simply don’t know what you experience every day. Challenging these inaccurate stereotypes can help educate those around you about this particular invisible illness.
6. Change Their Vocabulary.
Stigma’s power exists in everyday language. Certain all-too-commonly used words or labels can be incredibly hurtful. Kindly but firmly let others know that these words are derogatory. If you don’t want to take this stance openly for yourself, you could always say (or pretend) that you are standing up for a friend or family member close to you.
7. Link Arms with Others.
Fighting stigma is incredibly difficult—but you don’t have to do it alone. A great thing about being open about your disorder is connecting with others who may be just like you. Find a support group, take part in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, and speak with friends about your aims to reduce stigma. They may be going through a similar battle in their own lives, and can share some wisdom. Volunteering with nonprofits who cater to this population can also give you the sense of belonging and help reduce any feelings of isolation you may experience.
8. Take It Online.
Even if you never reveal your own mental health status, the online realm is a great place to advocate for causes that matter to you. Try using social media to comment on posts relating to mental health and experiment with sharing meaningful research or messages with your following. You’re starting a conversation and helping to make depression less of a taboo topic.
9. Spread the Word.
If you’re looking to take the battle against stigma to your community at large, try posting educational flyers in common areas of coffee shops or your office break room. Encourage your company to invite public speakers who struggle with mood disorders to educate your coworkers. If you want to make an even bigger impact on your community, you can always partner with a local organization to present film screenings or local events that help to educate and normalize depression in everyday life. When you’re spreading the word on a large scale, the sky really is the limit.
Putting Your Journey First
Stigma may be an unfortunate part of daily life when you struggle with depression, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree to let it affect your journey. By understanding which sources of stigma are impacting you the most and taking on action-based strategies to counteract it, it will be much easier for you to reduce this part of the struggle in your life. The more we can all get on board with these kinds of initiatives, the closer we can get to creating a world where stigma no longer exists.
Above all, the most important aspect of the journey is taking care of your own well-being. If stigma is dragging you down, make sure that you’re doing all you can to care for yourself, and take care to react with compassion to your emotions. The very best thing you can do for yourself is to continue on your treatment path and keep moving forward towards recovery.
The best place to begin your journey is at a residential mental health facility which can offer you a safe, judgment-free space to clear your mind and begin recovering, while simultaneously tailoring your treatment plan to best fit your unique situation and physical and mental health care requirements. Here, you can educate yourself better on the facts and fictions of your own struggle, which in turn will help you become better equipped to educate others and chip away at stigma—one conversation at a time.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with depression and other mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs, and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.
Lead image source: Unsplash user Jad Limcaco