By Sonja Wasden, as told by Kara Mayer Robinson
I am a mental health advocate living with major depression.
I speak to Fortune 500 companies, women’s prisons, firefighters, police officers, drug rehabilitation centers, nonprofit organizations and the media about the importance of mental health.
My hope is to break the stigma and let people know that they are not alone and can live a beautiful life despite mental health issues.
An important part of destigmatizing depression is dispelling common misconceptions. As perceptions of major depression change, many misconceptions remain.
For example, people often think that depression is something that can be shaken off or flicked like a light switch. They might say things like “Cheer up” or “Just be happy”. But depression is not a choice. It’s a feeling and it’s real.
Another misconception is how it appears on the surface. Just because someone looks happy doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. People with depression often put on a happy face to hide it from others.
People sometimes think that someone struggling with depression is trying to get attention. But no attention is worth the painful feelings of major depressive disorder.
The problem with persistent stigma is that it can potentially discourage you from speaking out and getting the help you need. The stigma can even be triggered by one’s own feelings. In the past I have often felt that I was unhelpful or worthless because of my depressive disorder.
But people with major depression are some of the most resilient and hardworking people I know. It takes courage to face this condition day after day.
People with chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes are often said to be brave, courageous and inspirational. People with major depression should be told the same.
The perception of major depression is changing. People are talking more about mental health, which helps.
COVID-19 has brought depression to the fore. Studies report that the number of people suffering from depression has increased. Among people with lower incomes and more stressors, the rate has tripled since the pandemic began.
As depression becomes more prominent, we have more critical conversations about mental health. There is a better understanding that people from all walks of life suffer from depression. These honest conversations not only make people feel less alone, but also encourage people to speak up.
It also helps that therapy is more common now. More and more people are going to therapy to improve their lives, even if they are not struggling with mental health problems. This has greatly reduced the stigma for therapy.
But there is still a stigma associated with taking mental health medication. It’s stigmatized to the point that many people who need it refuse to take it, even though it would help them greatly improve their lives.
It can be difficult to find out that you have major depressive disorder.
When I got my diagnosis, my whole soul rebelled against it. I felt like my doctor was going to give me a life sentence. I felt hopeless and helpless. I couldn’t imagine how I could lead a normal life with depression as my constant companion.
But that has changed. I am thankful for my doctors, medications, DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) and therapists who have taught me that I can live a life worth living despite my depression. Thanks to medicine and learning new skills, I now have a very beautiful and fulfilling life.
When you learn that you have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, the first step in the healing process is radical acceptance. When you fight depressed emotions, it only gives them more fuel to thrive.
When I stopped fighting my diagnosis and started embracing it, my quality of life improved. Of course I still have tough days that I have to accept and work through, but the magic of acceptance is that it stops unnecessary suffering caused by resistance.
Try to remember that there are millions of people living successfully with difficult illnesses of all kinds. You’re not alone. Chronic diseases are no fun and require daily management, but there is power in acceptance. That’s the only way to get ahead.
You can live your life differently than someone else without a depressive disorder, and that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean you can’t live a fulfilling and meaningful life. Try to use self-help, self-love, and patience.
It takes everyone to break a stigma: celebrities, public figures, families, friends, schools, government leaders, news outlets, advocacy groups, doctors, therapists and individuals.
One of the best ways you can help break down the stigma is by allowing and participating in conversations about mental health. educate yourself Be careful of the language you use. Show the equality between physical and mental illness. Be compassionate.
Talk about it at work, with friends, and with family. Post on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook about things related to mental health awareness. Be one of the drops in the ocean. Every person’s voice counts.