By: Janki Shah
In a rich bustling and successful country like the United States, you would not expect that it tops on the list of countries with the one of the largest percent of their population with mental illness.  With the US population rising to a close 313.9 million individuals, 6.7% of the population that is 18 years or older is affected by major depressive disorder (MDD), making it one of the most prevalent of the mental illnesses.  The World Health Organization predicts that by the year 2030, depression will lead to more years lost to disability than any other illness.  For example, a depressed individual’s average life span can be shortened by 25 to 30 years. Shockingly, an illness that impacts so many individuals in this country alone, is still underestimated, ignored and simply shoved under the rug. Ok that’s enough numbers for now.
Although we may agree that the attitudes toward depression has improved within the last few decades, some of us still find it hard to believe that the discrimination and stigma surrounding those individuals is still alive. We all know depression is more than just being sad. Despite the numerous ways to raise awareness, many people have difficulty differentiating between being sad and the prolonged torturous episodes of feeling down, hopeless and miserable. This is just one of the many misconceptions we still have about depression. However if we understand the stigma around depression and come up with ways to remove it, we can openly talk about this public health issue and keep mental illness out of the shadows. Unfortunately it is much easier said than done.
But what is a stigma exactly? It is a difficult multifaceted concept to define, but if anyone has read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the letter “A” that the protagonist Hester Prynne had to wear, represented that she had committed adultery, and it served as a symbol for the society to remember her by; that symbol is similar to a stigma. Although maybe not as embarrassing, a stigma is similarly characterized as a “mark of shame” that sets the person apart from others.  A depressed individual is sometimes stigmatized as one who is weak, lazy, unmotivated, accused of substance abuse. This “tattoo” paves the way for increasing prejudice, discrimination, social isolation and preconceptions about their character. Shame and secrecy develop in response to the stigma.  Due to fear of being associated with a failing moral weakness, people attempt to hide their illness and avoid seeking help from professionals. The stigma that is attached to the individual impacts their life in almost every aspect, whether it is at home, work, or their neighborhood. Because of the way depression harms a person’s self-esteem, the stigma becomes intertwined into their self-image and their whole being.  Hopefully with more research into the understanding depression as an illness and theories of how social stigmas are constructed, we can look forward to a brighter future where we can come up with ways to bust them as well!
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