Exposing the Stigma of Living With Depression

imageWe never thought the name of our author’s booth – Living With Depression – at the conference for the Missouri Association of School Librarians would bring home the stigma of depression in an unusual way. We set up our booth with our books and information about the work we do – presentations, workshops, and support groups – to help those who live with and care for depressed people. We were ready for a day which we thought would bring discussion on depression and conversation about what it means to live with someone with mental illness.  We were wrong.

It began subtly with people glancing in the direction of our booth and hurrying past.  Then there were those who answered our question, “Can we tell you about what we do?” with the answer, “No, I don’t need that.”  And maybe they really didn’t, but it made us wonder. The most interesting thing we witnessed was connected to the drawing to be held at the end of the day.  Attendees put their contact information on cards and left their cards at the booths to win prizes from particular vendors. We saw more than one person, when they thought no one was looking, surreptitiously placing their card in the basket on our table. Stigma was at work once again.

On the flip side, people actually came to our presentation titled “Helping Students Who Deal With Depression.” Some people tentatively shared a little of their own experiences.  Others nodded in recognition as we spoke.  And there was one person whose expressions and body language showed us that what was being said hit home.

Even better was what happened after the presentation. Several people stopped by our booth and shared their stories, hopefully as a result of hearing us chip away at the stigma of mental illness in our presentation. Moms with mentally ill children. A woman dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. Another woman with four aging and ailing parents. One with a husband who was just started to try antidepressant medication.

People are hurting.  They’re looking for a chance to talk about how mental illness is affecting their lives.  Too often the stigma prevents them from discovering that others are living in similar situations. Loneliness, isolation, abandonment abound.  One simple act of sharing can change all that.

Can you remember the first time when someone talked with you about their personal struggle with mental illness? Do you remember that realization that you were not alone? Some of us have been fortunate to have received this gift. What if those of us who have had this experience could be the hope for other hurting people? We’re glad we could be that hope for those at the conference this weekend.

-Bernadette and Amy (wow, our first co-written post!)

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4 Responses

  1. Mental illness is so incredibly common (unfortunately). But still, so many people feel like they are the only ones who deal with it. Or maybe not the only ones, but the only “normal” ones. Sometimes we think of people with mental illness as being one of those “crazies” and not the “normal” people that work in the cubicle next to us or are in our study group. There are certain places where the stigma is greater than others. For example, the rate of antidepressant usage among Mormon women is staggering, but it doesn’t get talked about very much. I don’t think that most people would be critical or judgmental, but people feel like it’s an issue that only they are dealing with. I have been so blessed by the willingness of others to open up to me about their struggles with mental illness. Just knowing that somebody understands does a world of good. Thanks for writing about this, I hope it gets a lot of attention.

    • Thanks. I think you’re right – it’s hard for us to realize that our very normal-appearing next-door-neighbor or friend from school or work might actually be dealing with a mental illness.

  2. Thank you so much for your post. It’s greatly appreciated. Would you mind if I reposted this on PTSDPerspectives.org? I think it would help bring a new voice to the discussion. We greatly appreciate your work.
    Shelly and Wanda.

  3. We would be honored by a repost. Thanks very much, and we’re glad our words were helpful.

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