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Experiencing the stigma of depression is uncomfortable at best. Many people with the diagnosis feel shame, arguably the most debilitating of all human feelings. A growing awareness of depression has put a dent in stigma, but it still keeps hundreds of depressed people from seeking help.
Since stigma exists, we need to discover ways of managing it or lessening its impact on us.
Exam Your Own Beliefs About Depression.
It is difficult to ignore stigma when we, the depressed, share the belief that depression is laziness, weakness, or a character flaw. Many of us picked up these beliefs from our culture and family while growing up.
Come to terms with any internal stigma you carry and it will be easier to fend off barbs from the outside. Support groups, online forums, and counseling can help you address your beliefs.
Be Wise About Sharing the Diagnosis
Telling one coworker about your depression can quickly turn it into fodder for coffee break conversations. (If you want everyone at work to know, simply inform the office gossip.) The same goes for sharing with your neighbors, church members, or the bridge club.
There are two reasons to be discriminating about disclosing. First, if the stigma of depression is difficult for you to manage why let anyone know your diagnosis? Second, not all supervisors, bosses, or companies (neighbors, or bridge partners) accept depression as a treatable illness. Think about what you are willing to deal with before sharing.
Go on the Offense
You can choose to be a depression stigma warrior, using openness about the diagnosis to teach people the realities of depression. Not everyone has the temperament for this, but some people find being on the offensive an excellent way to cope. It can be empowering and give purpose to the experience of depression. Only you can decide if this strategy is right for you. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution.
You do not need to be a depression encyclopedia, but having a few facts about depression to pull out of your conversational hat is helpful. If someone begins spouting stigma it is more effective to hit them with a few facts than with your indignation.
Arm yourself with information that is significant to you. It will help with recall and the ability to share it with conviction.
Have a Ready Reply
You can carry a simple response to stigma in your pocket or purse. A “pocket response” is a short statement to use when your stigma dander is up and a clever, or pearl-of-wisdom reply escapes you.
For example, someone says, “You depressed people just need to face life like the rest of us.” A pocket reply might be, “Oh, thank you, that’s something thousands of depressed people have never thought of.” (By the time they realize your comment is sarcastic, you will have walked away.)
Just think of something that you will feel comfortable saying. Even if you are scoffed at, at least you will have thrown a punch.
Please, if you have a good tip for coping with stigma, share it with the rest of us.
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