Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stigma of Depression

By Carol Kivler

What state of mind would allow a Mother to put her children in the car with her and drive off a pier?  A state of mind consumed by a debilitating illness that does not see economic status, educational background, culture, or race—the illness is depression.

The shocking story of LaShanda Armstrong drowning her children in the Hudson River is yet another grim reminder of what can happen when depression is left untreated.
The overwhelming perception of Mrs. Armstrong’s actions is construed as selfishness, attention getting, or punishing.  I know differently.  Why?  Because I, too, had the exact plan to put my family in the car and drive off a bridge. Two Mothers who came from a place of loving concerns.  Our concerns were, who would take care of our children, and who could ever love them as much as we do?   We had no choice other than to take our children with us.  But in the end there were two extremely different outcomes--one ending in the death of three innocent children with their mother; one ending in hospitalization, treatment, and survival for the other Mother and her three children.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four women will experience severe depression at some point in life.  Only about one-fifth of all women who suffer from depression seek treatment.  Yet, 80 percent of those seeking treatment recover.

If 80 percent recover, why then are women still struggling in silence and not seeking treatment?  Stigma.  Stigma is still the major obstacle to awareness and understanding of depression.  What causes stigma?  Ignorance and lack of acceptance, preconceived notions, fear, and folklore as well as other people’s skewed opinions and use of labels. Often these elements can shut one down and leave one less likely to seek treatment.

The general population still views depression as a character flaw, laziness, a call for attention.  Depression is an illness that affects the body, mood, and thoughts.  An illness of desperation and hopelessness, an illness that impacts every waking moment, an illness that robs your ability to engage in life, and an illness that cannot be ignored.

With this tragic event still fresh in our minds, there is no better time to educate, support, and advocate for an open dialogue around depression than now.  Today, we each have the responsibility to lift the clouds of shame and guilt while crushing the stigma surrounding depression.  We have the opportunity to encourage our loved ones, friends, and colleagues to seek treatment while replacing judgment with understanding.  Together we can save future families from the devastating outcome the Armstrong family is now experiencing.

Carol Kivler, MS, CSP, speaker, author of Will I Ever Be the Same Again? and the founder of Courageous Recovery, works to raise awareness, instill hope, and combat stigma surrounding mental health diagnoses and treatments. 

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