Overcoming Stigma Associated with Depression: A Step-by-Step Guide

Despite advancements in mental health awareness, the stigma surrounding depression still exists. This stigma can deter individuals from seeking help, reduce self-esteem, and increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to overcome the stigma associated with depression:

I am dedicating the thoughts and reason I am writing this post to many of my friends and family who were beside me even when I didn't realize it and sometimes when it made such a miraculous difference, but I don't even think they understood.

To: Carol, Rachel, Jon, Katrina, Josh, Aurora, Kylie, Liam, Connor, Marie, Art, Carrie, Andrea, Tom, Stephanie, Michael, Bill, Dad, Debbie, Ken, Genna, Katie, Denise, George, Stephenie, Shari, Mike, Anette, Bryon, Megan, Jae, Chris(so many Chris' actually), Luke, Chris, Erin, Emily, Peggy, Josh, Ryan, Jamie, another Rachel, Christina, Secant, Aunalytics. I even had support from clients who visited me in the hospital. 

I needed to have connected with all of the people I just mentioned, but I was under such a dark cloud. Having the habit of connecting more with them would have been the thing that would've made the biggest difference for me I think. And think is the operative term here. It was all in my head. 

Part of having the support structure in place is realizing who actually is already ready to come and sit with you. Strive to realize when people do surround you even when you aren't bed bound in a hospital for months. 

During my treatment for AML cancer at Spectrum in Grand Rapids here in my home state, I was led down a path of being very isolated from my family and friends. There was a portion of my family that visited and a good dozen of my friends who did as well. But in the absence of anyone to help me make decisions it was hard. I was tired, I ached all the time. The exercise was brutal on my legs. Come to find out I also had bulging discs, bone spurs, stenosis, and spondylosis causing me some sciatica-like symptoms. 

I began to grieve for the loss of the physically strong person I was. I had lost 110 lbs since the start of that ordeal. I looked like the boney character from the He-man cartoons I watched as a kid. 

I received counseling, medication for depression, and medication for pain. And all of it was draining me fast. Aside from knowing that I was just going to beat whatever was thrown my way, I was still severely depressed. 

1. **Educate Yourself and Others:** 

    - **Why It’s Important:** Misunderstandings about depression often contribute to stigma. Knowledge can foster understanding and empathy.

    - **How to Implement:** Learn about depression from reliable sources and share this information with others. Help people understand that depression is a real, treatable mental health condition, not a personal weakness or character flaw.

    To even mention you have depression sets you apart from others that you meet. As you can imagine, you aren't able to read other people as easily when you are depressed yourself. Bringing up the subject to get help is edgy and could cause dissension between you and your friends and family. That's how it felt to me. I find it difficult to ask for help. 

2. **Speak Openly about Mental Health:**

    - **Why It’s Important:** Talking about mental health helps to normalize it and breaks down barriers created by stigma.

    - **How to Implement:** Share your experiences and feelings with trusted friends, family, or support groups. Encourage others to share their experiences as well.

    I have one friend that I talk to almost every day. I like to think I give him weekends off though LOL. But he and I baseline each other if we are feeling stressed or need some situation brought down to a manageable level of energy. 

3. **Challenge Stigma When You See It:**

    - **Why It’s Important:** Allowing stigmatizing remarks or behaviors to go unchallenged perpetuates misconceptions and fuels stigma.

    - **How to Implement:** Politely correct misconceptions about depression when you encounter them. Remind people that language matters, and encourage them to use respectful, non-stigmatizing language when talking about mental health.

    If you have family or friends who act withdrawn and are being bullied or they seem not themselves. Ask them. Sit with them, or just talk about the weather. Your company might mean more than you ever know. 

4. **Seek Professional Help:**

    - **Why It’s Important:** Seeking professional help is a critical step in managing depression. It also sends a powerful message against stigma by showing that it’s okay to seek help.

    - **How to Implement:** Reach out to mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, or counselors. Utilize resources like hotlines if immediate help is needed.

    I personally reached out to psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. I asked them to test me to confirm what I was feeling and needed help with. Chemo\Brain fog, losing words, slowing down of my ability to think, not being able to lift even a gallon of milk. Theses things will get to you if they are part of your situation. 

5. **Engage in Self-Care:**

    - **Why It’s Important:** Taking care of your mental health can help you cope with depression and combat stigma.

    - **How to Implement:** Engage in activities that promote well-being such as exercise, healthy eating, and hobbies. Practice mindfulness and stress management techniques.

    I used to read and learn all of the time. After recovery began, I started watching TV shows in foreign languages, learning new languages from Rosetta, and studying courses by taking college courses to complete my degree. I did everything I could to try to become the person I was before chemo. It was hard. 

6. **Build a Support Network:**

    - **Why It’s Important:** Having a network of supportive individuals can help you navigate through depression and confront stigma.

    - **How to Implement:** Stay connected with friends and family. Join support groups either in-person or online where you can connect with people who understand your experiences.

    It's hard to say to a person who isn't going through depression that they should have some sort of support network and place if that happens. And to put it in my situation and make it succinct, I needed to have been more present in my family's life for them to have come to my side to help me when I needed it I needed someone to answer questions to the doctors and help me decide what needed to happen. Being on my own, for all of those decisions was incredibly draining.

    Make sure you have a support structure set up in advance by living in a way that helps you communicate better and also gives you the friends and family closeness that will be needed when you are unable to speak for yourself or make decisions. Part of that goes down the road to having power of attorney and filling out your advanced directives. But that's way past the purpose of this post I'm writing right now. 

7. **Advocate for Mental Health:**

    - **Why It’s Important:** Advocacy raises awareness, promotes understanding, and challenges stigma.

    - **How to Implement:** Get involved in mental health advocacy initiatives. This could be anything from participating in awareness campaigns, sharing your story, or volunteering for mental health organizations.

    I am personally an incredibly stubborn person who wants things to happen in a specific way. And I don't always communicate that, but always have been able to just structure everything around me the way I wanted it. But that makes me a very isolated person and it's not a good way to live and connect with friends and family. Let yourself rely on your friends and family for support and little things. 

Remember, confronting stigma is not an overnight process. It takes time, patience, and a collective societal effort. Every conversation, every shared story, and every act of understanding helps chip away at the stigma surrounding depression, paving the way for more compassionate, empathetic mental health discussions and treatments.


Paul Norg said…
Seeking support from the church is another good source of help.

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