Ronna Louise White

I am a journalist with experience in writing various types of media including, yet not limited to, news, feature, crime, opinion and much more through diverse platforms.

Decoding Depression

People who suffer from depression are just like those who suffer from an actual physical illness such as diabetes or cancer; the condition gets in the way of everyday life, causing tremendous pain for not just those suffering from the condition, but for those around them. Although individuals who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression desperately need others to understand their condition and reject the stigmas that all too often accompany them, those suffering from a mental illness are often left to deal with their condition on their own.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I was diagnosed with depression my senior year of high school. When I confronted my friends with my condition, they all fled and left me all alone, which obviously didn’t help my increasingly worsening depression. Although I initially fostered resentment towards their actions, thinking back, I don’t blame them for leaving me; they simply weren’t educated on how mental illness can impact a person’s life and those around them. This problem of not understanding mental illness, based on my experience, is pervasive throughout society.

I got used to hearing things like “why can’t you just be happy?” or “are you crazy?” or “can’t you just, like, snap out of it?” My friends and acquaintances held unrealistic expectations for me; in addition, they retreated into the traditional stigmas that individuals on the outside of mental illness place upon those on the inside.

According to an article published in World Psychiatry by Patrick Corrigan of the University of Chicago Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, the stigmas surrounding mental illness—which I experienced myself—tend to fall into three categories: fear and exclusion, whereby individuals perceive persons with severe mental illness as something to be feared; authoritarianism, whereby individuals perceive persons with mental illness as irresponsible and incapable of making informed decisions; and benevolence, whereby those with mental illnesses are like children and need to be cared for.

For those with a mental illness, the anticipation of social exclusion from being discriminated against by prejudiced individuals can have serious effects on their desire to seek out and adhere to their treatment; for example, a study published last year in the journal of Psychiatric Services found that “Perceived stigma associated with mental illness and individuals’ views about the illness play an important role in adherence to treatment for depression.”

Accordingly, there is a pressing need to promote positive societal attitudes towards those with a mental illness; additionally, helping individuals understand that seeking treatment for a mental illness shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment would go a long way towards helping them lead more fulfilling lives.

Those that suffer with depression can’t just “look on the bright side” or “just be happy,” like most people tell us to do. Those suffering want nothing more than to be “normal” and just be happy. Some think that having depression just means that people are focusing only on the negative and just need to see all the positivity in their life, but that is not the case. Instead, depression can develop for a variety of reasons, including many that lie beyond the individual’s control.

Depression often develops as a result of a chemical imbalance in one’s brain, but can also be caused by other things like abuse, death or loss, genetics and substance abuse. A person suffering with depression, according to the Mayo Clinic, may have deficits in the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are the three main chemicals that correlate the most with mood and one’s emotional state.

Some believe that sufferers can “just turn it off” and be happy when they are in a depressive state. Unfortunately, the condition is slightly more convoluted and difficult than some wishful thinkers would like to believe. When someone tells a sufferer to “just be happy,” it’s almost like telling a person battling cancer to “just get rid of the cancer.” Both are equally absurd. Many individuals have to take medication, attend therapy sessions and exercise just to keep their mind busy, all while slowly piecing together their lives together in the hopes of escaping the silent, painful plague of their mental disease.

It’s a daily battle for those suffering. Although there are various ways to help lessen and prevent the symptoms of mental illness, there aren’t always definite “cures.” So, those battling it could potentially suffer for the entirety of their lives, especially if they don’t seek treatment. Some days are easier than others but there are days when people don’t and can’t leave their house due to their crippling depression weighing down on them and engulfing their entire lives.

Next time you encounter an individual that is battling a mental illness, just remember to be sensitive to their disease. Depression is an actual disease and needs to be taken seriously, and being supportive of those with the condition around you can make all the difference in the world.
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This entry was posted on November 5, 2014 by in Opinion.
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