Understanding and Combating Stigma: Depression

PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.danielfryer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Stigma.jpg

Excerpts provided by original article presented by Elizabeth Shimer Bowers , Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD

Understanding Stigma-

“Our culture has a fairly rigid definition of what constitutes appropriate behavior, and there is definitely a social stigma associated with depression,” says Joseph Hullett, MD, senior medical director of clinical strategy for OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions in Golden Valley, Minn. “A social stigma, in general, is like the mark of Cain, a label used to identify groups in a society in terms of behavioral traits.”

According to Dr. Hullett, social stigmas about depression often translate to inaccurate stereotypes, such as:

  • People with depression lack willpower.
  • Depressed people’s emotions are out of control.
  • Depressed people are a danger to others.
  • People with depression are “defective,” like broken machines.
  • Depressed people are just whiney and make excuses.
  • People with depression are antisocial.

“Stigma surrounding depression is particularly prevalent in families of over-achievers and in companies where there is a high level of success,” says Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, a psychiatrist in Miami. “Men tend to struggle more with depression-related stigma because they’re afraid others will see depression as a sign of weakness. They may try to fight depression on their own instead of seeking help.”

Depression stigmas are also dangerous because they can become self-perpetuating. “There is a phenomenon called ‘The Looking Glass Theory,’ which says you become what you see in the mirror,” Hullett explains. Essentially, it’s the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If society is your mirror and society looks at you with these stigmas, you may begin to adopt some of those traits and view yourself in a negative light.”


Excerpts provided by Adia Colar,  a publicist for New Harbinger Publications and a freelance writer. (By way of www.psychologytoday.com) 

Combating Stigma- 

1. You Are Not Alone

Perhaps you don't personally know anyone who deals with depression. However, there could very well be people—talking with you, walking by you, standing near you—who are struggling with it as well.

Sometimes, when you're suffering silently, you convince yourself that you're in this all alone and others can't understand. This condition is sometimes known as being "terminally unique". Well, no one has this part of my depression. I'm more pathetic than other depressed people because of thatThe fact is, though, that there are countless other people experiencing very similar things.


  • About 17% of Americans will face major depressive disorder in their lives. That's more than 1 in 6 (JAMA).
  • Major depression affects 15 million adults in a given year (NAMI).

Despite the numbers, though, it can be hard to connect the sobering facts of depression with your life. Okay, depression exists, you might say, but it shouldn't be my experience.

The stigma of depression can sometimes seem worse than the depression itself. You can't even deal with the actual depression because the shame and fear you experience takes over. "I'm going to deal with this depression that isn't really depression, because I can't have depression, right?" 

2. Accept It

This doesn't mean that you will like your depression. It would probably be odd if you woke up one day and yelled, "Yippee, I have depression!" What this does mean, though, is that you acknowledge it's there.

How do you accept this, you ask. Let me first ask: if you have depression, but you won't acknowledge that you have it, will the depression go away? No. It's still going to be there and it will be more difficult because you'll be struggling with the depression and your denial.

Acceptance doesn't mean you're happy with it, but it can bring you freedom.

Some people find that they're not able to accept it unless they do the next step: 

3. Talk About It.

"You're only as sick as your secrets." Hiding what you deal with and your struggles intensifies shame. I've experienced, with both an eating disorder and depression, that the more I speak about them, the less shame I feel. That doesn't mean I shout it wherever I go, nor am I suggesting that you do that. However, choose someone you trust, then take that big step and tell them.

Maybe you'll want to tell more people, like your close friends and family. If you're scared of their reaction, remember that people can often say disparaging things out of ignorance. They might not understand at first, but use it as an opportunity to share some information about depression and your experience. If you talk about it, they can learn from you, become educated about depression, and it can help to alter their views.

4. Seek Help.

Just as sharing your struggles with someone can help, getting assistance with your depression can help as well.

"I first got help for my depression at the same time I got help for my eating disorder, and I was trepidatious. A few years later, I agreed to see a psychiatrist. The next year, I fought for a while before finally agreeing to let my psychiatrist give me a second medication. Recently, with the support of my current psychiatrist, I've drastically cut my medication intake, and it's seemed to be beneficial. I've talked with friends and family, turned it over to God, gone to support group meetings, and written about it. Each part plays an important role in my journey with depression."

I'm not advocating any particular method of help, but I do suggest trying to find something that works for you. 

5. Help Others with Similar Difficulties

Provide help to someone else struggling with depression. Sometimes that is the best way to accept your own depression. While it might be difficult to be self-compassionate, when you extend sympathy to someone else who is struggling, it can help you be kindhearted with yourself too. Perhaps you will be that one person someone talks to when they need to discuss their depression. Helping others can help you at the same time.