The Stigma Within

When we consider the stigma attached to mental illness, we usually think of discrimination on the part of employers and rejection or at least distancing on the part of family and friends.  We rarely consider the stigma that can lie within us.  Depression becomes in such cases a moral failing, somehow a weakness that we do not want to share about ourselves with the rest of the world, an embarrassment.  And such internal stigma can have devastating consequences, in large part because it leads to not seeking or rejecting outside help.

The story surrounding the recent suicide of Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin is a prominent example.   But there are other tragic examples as well.  In the April edition of The Psychologist, published by The British Psychological Society, there is an article addressing the issue of murder-suicides.  It reports that a history of depression is a significant risk factor in older males who have a caring role.  One study of older males who had committed murder-suicide “showed 65% were depressed, but post-mortem indications were that anti-depressants were not taken.  The masculine ideal of self-reliance may be behind male reluctance to engage with treatment, where it is felt as a sign of weakness to seek help.”

Thus the more open admission of having suffered depression by famous athletes and celebrities is a welcome development. It actually had its start back in 2003 when the National Institute of Health began its “One Man, One Depression” campaign in which public service announcements were made for television from unscripted conversations with a diverse group of men, including a firefighter, an architect and an undercover police officer, who were brave enough to participate, even giving permission to use their names and professions.  Letting more light shine on not only the condition but that it can be successfully confronted is so important in fighting internal stigma.  Depression is not failure; it is an illness.  We would not consider illnesses such as cancer or measles as a sign of failure, nor should we depression.



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