Monday, October 09, 2006

TO WRITE: The Stigma Around Depression
Even before you received your diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder (or any other mental illness), you may have been labeled by those around you. "She's so moody." "He's just got an attitude problem."

But after discovering that you officially have a mental disorder, instead of finding those around you more understanding of your behavior and moods, you may also encounter stigma around your diagnosis itself. Have you heard any of these? "Depressed people are too self-centered; they should think of others." "People with mental illnesses should just try harder and they'd get well." "She has depression, so she'll never amount to much." "Only weak people have to take psychiatric medicines."

I speak to groups about mental health stigma on behalf of the Alameda County (California) Mental Health Board. According to that organization, stigma is "a brand of discredit or shame... a mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach." And while stigma is hard to take from family, friends and colleagues, it can become internalized too. Giving yourself negative messages about who you are and what you can do can lead to decreased self-esteem and confidence, more isolation, and more difficulty leading a fulfilling life.

While all of us in the mental health community must continue to educate those around us about moving beyond stigma, there are techniques that can help you cope for now too. For example, I'm sometimes helped by reminding myself of what I have accomplished despite my illness, and by thinking about the places where I feel a sense of belonging.

Play with this...
Describe any stigmatization you've felt as a result of your illness. Who has is come from? In what form? How did you feel as a result? Then brainstorm to find things that might help you cope with this. Write continuously for 15 minutes.
Let me know what you discover!

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