Depression and Stigma

I'll admit, it's difficult sometimes to separate a discussion of mental health from a discussion of race. It's difficult to separate a discussion of anything from a discussion of race, for that matter. During my mental health journey, while adapting to the nuances of navigating my illness, it was not lost on me that race itself was another nuance to navigate. This is just one example of a very long list of factors that felt completely out of my control. Although difficult to accept, realizing that I couldn't fix everything opened me up to more healing and more peace throughout my mental health journey. I realized I didn't have to feel guilty for compartmentalizing race and my mental health. This can be applied to any factor that may feel out of your control and cause added strain on your pursuit of mental wellness. It's okay to let go and prioritize yourself.
When I first began experiencing the onset of depression, I was confused and terrified. Although vague and patchy, at the time, I did have a basic understanding of how the disease typically presented itself in individuals. I was adamant that what I felt was not synonymous with someone who was depressed. The emotions I was experiencing didn't align with the accounts of other individuals who had experienced depression. Not only was I confused and terrified, but I also felt like an outcast in the community that theoretically should have provided me with solace.
Depression is not one-size-fits-all. However, if you had asked me a year ago to describe someone suffering from depression, I would have given you a generic and straight-up basic answer. My response would have gone something like this: An individual who is depressed is sad and doesn't enjoy pleasures that were once joyful. I'll be honest, my answer is not incorrect, but I can't seem to shake the hint of judgment in my tone birthed from ignorance towards depression that I had at the time. I would even go as far as to say that I had an unconscious bias towards the illness and mental health issues in general; little did I know, depression, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes.
"Surviving Mental Health Stigma Blog" — that’s the name of this blog full of tips and advice to get through moments of stigma, overcome it, and so on. Often, that’s how I approach writing for this blog: what tips can I share? What have I gone through that might be useful to others? But then it struck me. Dealing with mental health stigma can quite literally be an act of survival. It’s not hyperbole. It’s not dramatics. Mental health stigma could literally lead to someone dying. I’ll elaborate. (Note: this post contains a content warning.)
As open as I am about my depression, I'm not completely open about it. I'll talk about having depression and how dark it can get, which is done both in an effort of catharsis and to show others who may be going through the same thing that they're not as alone as depression can make us feel. It's also an important part of taking on mental health stigma, which is something I strive for whenever I can. Ironically, mental health stigma can be a part of what keeps me from being completely open about my depression.
My name is Rachel Miles, and I am very excited to be joining HealthyPlace to write on Surviving Mental Health Stigma. I was first diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder when I was 16 years old. This resulted in my first hospitalization as well as my first experiences with therapy, medication, and confronting mental health stigma. At the time, I had no idea what a significant part of my life these things would become.
People’s notions of what someone with a mental illness looks like includes ideas of how they think a person with mental illness should behave. The idea that you can tell someone with a mental illness by looking at them comes from both misunderstanding and stigma. But, as more and more people discuss realities like high-functioning mental illness and so forth, people are beginning to broaden their understanding. However, we need to delve deeper into the idea that someone can look like they have a mental illness. The fact is, mental illness looks different in everyone, and I don’t mean simply from one illness to another, but within the same illness.
Self-care isn’t a foreign topic when it comes to mental illness. Not only can self-care improve your overall mental wellness, but it’s more often than not a topic of conversation because of how incredibly difficult it can be to take care of ourselves when we’re struggling. The simple act of getting out of bed or having a proper meal can seem like a mountain to climb. One of the more interesting aspects of self-care, I think, is the self-stigma that’s attached to it; the self-stigma that says maybe we should stop focusing on ourselves for once.
Depression and men experiencing mental illness stigma is a common and problematic concern for many people, and it also happens on many levels when living with any mental illness for that matter; however, this article focuses on men experiencing depression and mental illness stigma. I am not referring to feeling down once in a while due to the stressors of everyday life, but actually focusing on men who feel so low that depression is negatively affecting their lives on a daily basis and causing them great concern for their mental health.
On Oct. 28, 2013, Justin Eldridge took his life. He left behind a wife and four children, and the never-ending question of "Why?" He had served more than eight years serving in the United States Marines, including an eight-month stint in Afghanistan. He was 31-years-old.