We don’t talk about it. We inch cautiously around it, like a putrid puddle on a city street, treading carefully as though stepping on it would cause something unspeakable to burst.
Depression – the giant elephant in the room.
Even though over 14 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from depression every year, the stigma of mental illness still stands firm. Those who struggle with the disorder are perceived to be weak, vulnerable. It is telling to note that Robin Williams spoke openly about his substance abuse for years, yet never publicly addressed his struggle with depression.
Because it’s the stigma. There’s a ubiquitous perception of depression as a deficit of character. If you break a bone, everyone rushes over sympathetically and signs your cast. If you’re depressed, everyone rushes in the opposite direction. If you’re depressed, there must be something wrong with you, society says. Somehow it’s your fault.
A prevalent sense of isolation, crippling anxiety, suicidal thoughts – we lock up these experiences and suffer in silence, fearing that if our cries are heard, we will be rejected and shamed. It is this stigma, this victim-blaming that prevents those dealing with depression from getting help.
Ideally, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we as a society practice compassion and understanding. That is what we’d like to believe – after all, acceptance is professed openly in our culture. But underneath this veil lies a conditioned judgement that causes us to turn a blind eye to the severity of the situation, and the harsh reality of the situation is this: every 30 seconds, someone somewhere the world takes his or her own life as a result of depression.
We need to end the stigma of depression and start seeing mental illness for what it really is: a sickness of the brain. Like any other illness, anyone can suffer from it.
The generalized image of a depressed person is one who is quiet, unsmiling, keeps to him or herself, and just all-around sad. But that is not the case. The reality is that even the most seemingly happy people can struggle with depression, those you would least expect. This is simply because depression is an actual illness, and like with any other neurological disorder, it isn’t subject to individual will.
When Robin Williams ended his life earlier this year, much of the world was given an abrupt wake up call. Could this lively, jubilant soul who brought laughter to so many really have been battling depression? A month later, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen came forward and revealed her ongoing fight with debilitating depression, further breaking down the walls so many people are hiding behind.
May Williams’ tragic story and Bowen’s personal testimony catalyze a change in our way of approaching depression, and delve more deeply into the nature of the disorder. We need to retire the taboo, come out of our shadows, and start talking. By breaking the silence, we create unity, and unity is what we need to stand. The only way to win this battle that so many people are fighting alone is by banding together.