A Dark Cloud Over the Stars & Stripes

By: Janki Shah

In a rich
bustling and successful country like the United States, you would not expect
that it tops on the list of countries with the one of the largest percent of
their population with mental illness. [1] With the US population rising
to a close 313.9 million individuals, 6.7% of the population that is 18 years
or older is affected by major depressive disorder (MDD), making it one of the
most prevalent of the mental illnesses. [2] The World Health
Organization predicts that by the year 2030, depression will lead to more years
lost to disability than any other illness. [3] For example, a depressed
individual’s average life span can be shortened by 25 to 30 years. Shockingly,
an illness that impacts so many individuals in this country alone, is still
underestimated, ignored and simply shoved under the rug. Ok that’s enough
numbers for now.

Although we may
agree that the attitudes toward depression has improved within the last few decades,
some of us still find it hard to believe that the discrimination and stigma
surrounding those individuals is still alive. We all know depression is more
than just being sad. Despite the numerous ways to raise awareness, many people
have difficulty differentiating between being sad and the prolonged torturous
episodes of feeling down, hopeless and miserable. This is just one of the many
misconceptions we still have about depression. However if we understand the
stigma around depression and come up with ways to remove it, we can openly talk
about this public health issue and keep mental illness out of the shadows.
Unfortunately it is much easier said than done.

But what is a
stigma exactly? It is a difficult multifaceted concept to define, but if anyone
has read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the letter “A” that the
protagonist Hester Prynne had to wear, represented that she had committed
adultery, and it served as a symbol for the society to remember her by; that symbol is similar to a stigma.
Although maybe not as embarrassing, a stigma is similarly characterized as a
“mark of shame” that sets the person apart from others. [4] A depressed
individual is sometimes stigmatized as one who is weak, lazy, unmotivated,
accused of substance abuse. This “tattoo” paves the way for increasing
prejudice, discrimination, social isolation and preconceptions about their
character. Shame and secrecy develop in response to the stigma. [5] Due
to fear of being associated with a failing moral weakness, people attempt to
hide their illness and avoid seeking help from professionals. The stigma that
is attached to the individual impacts their life in almost every aspect,
whether it is at home, work, or their neighborhood. Because of the way
depression harms a person’s self-esteem, the stigma becomes intertwined into
their self-image and their whole being. [6] Hopefully with more
research into the understanding depression as an illness and theories of how
social stigmas are constructed, we can look forward to a brighter future where
we can come up with ways to bust them as well! 


[1] Dusen, Allison van. (2007). How Depressed is Your Country? In Forbes.  Retrieved September 4, 2013 (http://www.forbes.com/2007/02/15/depression-world-rate-forbeslife-cx_avd_0216depressed.html)

[2] Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

3] Voinov et al. (2013). Depression and Chronic Diseases: It is time for a Synergistic Mental Health and Primary Care Approach. Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. 15 (2). Retrieved September 4, 2013  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733529/)

[4] Overton, Stacy L. and Medina, Sondra L. (2008). The
Stigma of Mental Illness. Journal of Counseling and Development. Retrieved
September 4, 2013 (http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/~hfairchi/pdf/psychology/Social&Diversity/Overton(2008)StigmaMentalIllness.pdf)

[5] Byrne, Peter. (2000). Stigma of mental illness and ways
of diminishing it. Advances of
Psychiatric Treatment.
Vol 6. 65-62. Retrieved September 4, 2013 (http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/6/1/65.full.pdf)

[6] Wolpert, Lewis. (2001). Stigma of Depression- a personal
view. British Medical Bulletin. 57 (1). pp. 221-224. Retrieved September 4,
2013 (http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content/57/1/221.full)

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