Can We Ever Get Over the Stigma of Depression?

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

For as long as health professionals can remember, our country has developed a negative stigma towards depression. People who have suffered from depression in our country tended to suffer in silence, or not seek the appropriate treatment because of the shame associated with admitting they have a mental illness. For instance, in the United States, during the 19th and 20th centuries, almost every form of mental illness was linked with a stigma of a moral failing or a sign of weak character. Currently, patients diagnosed with depression are viewed as broken, helpless people who need lifelong assistance. The stigma of being depressed is often compounded by shame, guilt, and discredit for not being a “productive” member of our society. People often measure their self-worth by building their career or taking care of their family. However, the depressed person feels like a nobody when their depression makes them unable to work or earn a living for their family. In fact, the majority of Americans agree that if they admit to their boss that they are diagnosed with clinical depression, they will lose their jobs.

However, in the attempt to ameliorate the issue of depression, pharmaceutical companies have increased production and advertisements of anti-depressants. With over 27 million people currently taking anti-depressants, it has become increasingly more acceptable to take medication for this condition. Simply stated, instead of resolving the problem within a person, we are using medication as a Band-Aid to avoid any signs of weak character. So, has the stigma associated with depression changed in any significant way? Signs are pointing to no.

Tipper Gore said it best when she stated, “the last great stigma of the 20th century is the stigma of mental illness.” It is generally thought that a depressed person has “trouble coping,” a “bad attitude,” or a “poor outlook on life.” However, depression is a combination of environmental and biological causes, and our society has a lack of understanding and acceptance for this condition. Why is it so scary to be open about our weaknesses? The stigma surrounding depression developed from living in a country where feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability are considered weak and unacceptable. Therefore, people easily lose touch with their feelings by avoiding situations where a strong emotion is present.

As health professionals, our mission is to reduce the stigma associated with depression. Although many celebrities have admitted to their struggles with depression, the stigma of mental illness still remains in the working world. In order to reduce this stigma, there needs to be a larger public health and educational approach to this condition. There are various groups who are working diligently to educate the public and diminish the myths and stigma that surrounds mental illness. For instance, people of all ages need to be informed about the signs, symptoms, and treatment for depression. If our society becomes more knowledgeable and aware of depression, we can reduce the stereotyping that is often association with this condition, making is more acceptable in our culture. It is important to promote the unique strengths that are required to endure depression. It takes much courage and mental toughness to get help for this condition, especially under its current stigma. This is also a good opportunity to teach others about overcoming adversity, and assisting their peers who are also struggling with depression. The key to overcoming the stigma of depression is to realize that your individual self-worth is a function of who you are, not what you do or how much money you make. Repeating this mantra can help you re-define how you view yourself.

Clinical depression is a medical condition, and is just as important as a disease such as diabetes, lupus or hypertension. Therefore, our society needs to stop making depression strictly a moral issue. Is the patient with a heart complication or a pancreas disorder considered weak, lazy, and defective? Of course not, and neither is the person who suffers from depression or mental illness. Depression is a diagnosable condition that needs to be treated with as much respect as any other disease, and in this manner, we can eliminate the stigma of depression in our society.


Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 2212 Dupont Dr., Suite I, Irvine, Ca. 92612.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
copyright a division of Counseling Corner, Inc.
As seen in The Blade magazine June 2005.

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