Why do people choose to be depressed? Why can’t they just snap out of it? If someone is suicidal, they’re just a coward. They just act that way for attention.
The statements and ideas above are false. These are examples of the misconceptions that many people in our society have concerning depression and suicide. These misconceptions are caused by Stigma. Stigma is defined as a mark of blame or disgrace. It shames people into believing false information about a certain topic. In the case of depression and suicide, stigma causes people to believe that if someone is depressed, they must be ‘crazy’. Or that someone who is thinking about suicide is taking the ‘easy way out.’ Stigma develops because of misinformation most often perpetuated by a lack of understanding and knowledge.
Depression is a mental illness and as such, has a tremendous amount of stigma associated with it. One of the misunderstandings that exists is that if someone has a mental illness they are dangerous or out of control in some way. Another is that depression is not a mental illness but a choice. The impact of stigma can be very destructive. When people suffering from depression are exposed to stigma and hear these statements it can prevent them from seeking the help they need. They feel that if they speak up about their struggle they will be ridiculed, not taken seriously or even shunned by their family and friends. They don’t want to be seen as weak or out of control of their lives. If people keep their depression to themselves and do not seek help they are at an increased risk to die by suicide.
By eliminating the stigma associated with depression more people will feel comfortable getting help with their depression and talking about their suicidal thoughts. Reducing stigma can be a challenge but it is a challenge our local community has accepted. Organizations like HelpLine of Delaware and Morrow Counties, Inc. offer community education programs to inform the population on depression and suicide so they can learn the truth about these issues. Once people are educated, stigma can begin to decrease. People become aware of the harmful impacts of stigma and can begin to change the way they think and talk about mental illness.
It might sound like a difficult task but you can start by reducing your own actions that perpetuate the stigma around depression. Be aware of the things you say and the jokes you make. Are you using words like ’crazy’ when talking about depression? Are you avoiding the topic of suicide if it is discussed? If someone in your life is depressed don’t be afraid to talk to them. Help them get help. Once you change these behaviors in yourself others may follow. You can lead by example in your community and inform others about the facts around depression and suicide. To learn more information about how you can reduce stigma, go to www.bringchange2mind.org.