Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States, along with anxiety. In the United States, around 17.3 million people over age 18 have experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime. That’s just one type of depression that affects millions of Americans. Despite its wide prevalence, depression still carries a stigma around it, especially when it comes to taking medications to help manage depression symptoms, like SSRIs.
Stigma can be disheartening for people who struggle with depression symptoms and feel they can’t address the problem on their own. The most damaging problem of stigma is the fact that it may place barriers between people who need help and treatment. Stigma may create a culture that makes seeking treatment seem like it invites ridicule. Stigma may also force people to hide their depression from their friends and family, worsening symptoms with feelings of isolation.
Learn more about common myths and stigmas around depression and what you can do to alleviate stigma.
This is one of the most common myths surrounding depression that can feed stigma. Depression is assumed to simply be sadness intensified, so friends and family members may try to point out all the reasons you shouldn’t be sad. Someone may tell you to suck it up or to just adopt a more positive outlook. With this idea, it’s easy to mistake a depressed person for someone with a pessimistic outlook. But depression isn’t an attitude or a frame of mind. It can be difficult for someone with depression to force themselves into positivity, even if they try very hard.
Depression is a psychological disorder, but its causes are complicated and not completely understood. Like most mental health disorders, depression is thought to have a complex array of potential causes, including genetic, environmental, biological, chemical, and hormonal factors. While it’s true that it’s a disease, it’s a disease that affects the mind and the brain. Saying that “it’s all in your head” implies that all that’s required is a mindset shift. But these chemicals, emotional, and environmental issues working together create a mental health problem that defies a person’s will to overcome it on their own. Depression may need therapy and even medication to effectively manage.
This objection is something you might hear from someone who has known a person who has struggled with depression while on medication. They may also know someone who complains about side effects. It’s true that many people take medications and are frustrated with the results. For that reason, it’s important to recognize that no magic bullet eradicates depression.
There are many different kinds of depression medications and therapy options. It may take time and a medical professional’s help to find the right treatment for you. Even if you find a medication that works for you, you’ll need to communicate with your doctor to determine the right dose for your needs. Addressing mental health issues can take work, and dealing with depression may not lead to success overnight.
Depression medications may have side effects, but that doesn’t mean treatment has failed. Instead, it may mean adjusting your dose, trying a new medication, or supplementing with therapy. It also means that it’s important to communicate with your doctor about uncomfortable side effects or the continuation of depression symptoms. While it may take time to find the treatment that’s right for you, it doesn’t mean that medications will only make things worse. Many people learn to better manage depression symptoms with medications.
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An old commercial for dandruff shampoo showcased a series of scenes where someone would discover a friend’s shampoo and say, “I didn’t know you had dandruff.” With a cheeky grin, they’d reply, “I don’t!”
One of the most distressing stigmas around depression medication or therapy is the assumption that anyone who needs it is weak, crazy, or constantly struggling. The fear that other people might have these assumptions is one of the reasons people avoid seeking treatment. However, like the dandruff shampoo commercial, the people who take steps to address mental illness may better manage their mental health than if they ignored their problems. People who attend therapy or take medications have recognized a problem in their life, and they’re taking steps to address it.
A common phrase you might hear in therapy is, “how you feel is not your fault but what you do about it is your responsibility.” People with depression who seek treatment are aware they could use help working on their mental health, just like someone with flu symptoms might go to the doctor. Mental health issues are extremely common, and people who seek treatment may be healthier than those who ignore mental health issues.
This isn’t to say that everyone who takes depression medication never struggles with mental health or that people that don’t take medication ignore their mental health. Instead, it recognizes the fact that mental health treatment is health care.
Many people assume that medication is just a product of overprescription and unnecessary. You might think you won’t need medication if you work hard enough to overcome your depression on your own. While there are many approaches to treatment, and some don’t involve medication, it’s important to recognize that medication is an important option for many people.
Someone with a depressive disorder who seeks professional help can usually find effective treatment in psychotherapy, behavioral therapies, or medication. Treatment is complex, and each person is different. There is no one treatment plan that’s perfect for everyone. However, some people struggle to attain success with psychotherapy alone. For some, depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and approaches that don’t address this imbalance may be limited in their success. The short-term therapeutic use of medication or even long-term use is necessary and beneficial for many people.
Where does stigma come from, and how can you work to address it?
Stigma is a social perspective of disgrace around a specific subject or action. Stigma about mental health issues and treatment often comes from a place of misunderstanding about the disease and treatment options. People who don’t struggle with depression may not understand that it’s distinct from normal negative emotions that come and go.
It may be hard for someone going through depression to describe their symptoms to someone who’s never experienced them. Stigma about medication and treatment options may come from people that grew up without the benefit of today’s treatment innovations. They may have been taught to deal with issues like depression in other ways or to simply ignore it.
Combating stigma can be difficult for people who haven’t experienced significant mental health issues in their life. But a simple method involves listening and taking issues seriously when a friend or family member tells you about their problem. Becoming more informed about mental health, depression, and treatment options can bridge the gap between someone who hasn’t dealt with depression and people with the disorder.
Mayo Clinic. (2019, September 17). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825
Mayo Clinic. (2018, February 03). Depression (major depressive disorder). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007
National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, February). New CHAT Copy – Benzodiazepine Detox in California. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Vv_amqd3k9TgwpaDV8NHJ6XaCl_xNqx0E6HhVGqO9XQ/edit
National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml