Janice Arenofsky writes at Esperanza:
When Stacy G. was diagnosed with depression, the Calgary mother of two rejected the notion. In her family, mental illness was either a taboo topic or ridiculed with terms like “nut cake” or “nut job.” Stacy blamed her persistent sadness and negativity on a stressful job and pledged to banish this “crappy thing” from her life through sheer determination. Friends told her to think positively, turn herself over to God or push through it.
“You see people every day thinking you should just ‘suck it up’ …,” says Stacy, referring to widely held views that depression is a moral failing or character flaw.
Then a close family friend died, and her “suck it up” strategy stopped working. Once a Type A personality, she became easily fatigued and unable to concentrate or cope with pressure. She couldn’t stop crying. She began to draw away from friends and family, in part from fear of their negative reactions.
“A good friend at work talked to me once after I told her what was going on, and then I never heard from her again,” says Stacy, 42, who took medical leave from her job as a revenue analyst. “I pretty much shut everyone out, because I was afraid of what others would say or think.”
Like many people with depression, Stacy bought into long-held public attitudes toward the condition. Her self-stigma delayed her treatment, increased her isolation, warped her self-image and lowered her self-esteem—a closed-circuit loop that only deepens depression.
A range of research shows that when social stigma becomes internalized as self-stigma, individuals with depression are far less likely to seek treatment.
For example, a 2009 study from Leipzig University in Germany identified internalized stigma as “an important mechanism decreasing the willingness to seek psychiatric help”—and of far more influence than “anticipated discrimination.” Likewise, a U.S. study of college students, published in Medical Care Research and Review in May 2009, found that personal stigma (as opposed to perceived stigma) was “significantly” associated with unwillingness to seek help.
Shaking off the shame and blame of self-stigma, therefore, may be the first step to recovery from depression—and to recovering a positive sense of self.
Patrick Corrigan, PsyD, director of the National Consortium on Stigma and Empowerment at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, recommends several strategies for self-empowerment.
Education to replace “mental health myths” with facts about depression can be useful in some circumstances, he says —both for the individual with depression and the people around them.
Pushing back against social stigma through advocacy and activism can counteract internalized stigma, Corrigan says—not to mention attack self-stigma at its source.
Most effective, however, are approaches that help those with depression realize they are not alone, that they have nothing to hide, and that they are not condemned by the condition.
“The concept of recovery needs reintroduction,” says Corrigan. “People need hope, and the fact is that most people do recover.”
Read more here.