I had been sitting alone in the doctor’s office for 30 minutes when my mind started to wander. I tried to take my mind to any place that was not the fluorescent-lit room I was sitting in. Anything to avoid the flyers adorning the walls and the large pain scale with the animated faces.
In the middle of my daydreaming, the doctor walked in holding the results of my test. He wore a half-smile that said, “It’ll be okay.” The test was to see if I had major depressive disorder; I knew the results as soon as he walked in.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, major depressive disorder is characterized by changes in sleep, appetite, day-to-day function and hopelessness. The disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, annually.
However, 80 percent of individuals affected by depression do not receive treatment.
Sometimes, failure to get treatment is due to a lack of access, but it can also be tied to this fact: sufferers of depression are afraid to get help because most people still have negative attitudes and stereotypes about mental illness.
There wasn’t any clear moment when I knew something was wrong. The problem was tallied by the days spent with a blanket over my head, telling friends and family that I had plans and couldn’t go out. It was spent by endless nights tossing and turning with unwanted thoughts in my mind.
The fear of being laughed at, or shunned, by the closest people in my life made me scared to say anything, so I didn’t.
If I could go back to before I was diagnosed, I would talk to those around me, because they would have listened. If you have anyone in your life that you care about, tell them what you are going through. Don’t let the fear of being mistaken keep you from saying what needs to be said. To defeat the stigma of mental health, it needs to be talked about.
Culture of America and Mental Health Stigmas
Clark sociology professor Don Ludwig believes that praising every individual who meets the norm means those who don’t feel stigmatized.
Many cultures in Europe don’t have the same problem of stigmatization that America has. Ludwig believes it ties back to capitalistic roots. “No one gets any excuses,” Ludwig explained. “If I can do it, there’s no reason you can’t.”
In colleges across America, students are supposed to find a job they like, do the work and get out happy. But with all of that stress weighing down on them, students often feel like they aren’t supposed to talk about their problems, which could severely impact their studies.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information conducted a study in 2005 on college students with depression, and concluded that depression resulted in a drop of .49 in GPA, and treatment resulted in a protective effect of .44 points
“College students are undergoing a lot of stress that may not have been there before,” Ludwig said. “At Clark, everyone is balancing work life with home life and academics, but with the stigmatization of mental health, nobody wants to talk about it.”
Clark psychology professor Tess Yevka discussed the benefit of referring to mental health as a spectrum, rather than a strict diagnosis.
“Because we call them disorders, because we call them ‘mental illness,’ it produces a stigma,” Yevka said. “If we simply say that a person is going through a ‘stage of depression,’ then it’s different.”
Yevka said to give people a label or diagnosis of “mentally ill” can feel isolating.
No one should be afraid to speak up regarding mental health, yet the conversation is avoided. That is why 60 percent of people suffering from major depression never get help, according to Mental Health America. That is also why 30 to 70 percent of suicide victims suffer from depression or bipolar disorder.
Before I was diagnosed, I had constant “intrusive thoughts,” violent or harrowing thoughts that would come randomly; I wrote this for the one person that may be feeling like I did.
Don’t be like I was. Speak to those around you and talk to a doctor, because there is help, and it can be managed. I don’t know how long I will have to deal with this, but depression does not have to be managed alone.
There are resources at Clark for those struggling with depression, or who just want to talk. Each student receives ten free counseling sessions a quarter. The Counseling and Health Center can be contacted at (360) 909-2614.
Preston, I applaud your courage in sharing your experience. You will never know how many students seek help because of your words. On behalf of them, I thank you!