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Social stigmas and depression“He says he’s depressed. I think he’s just lazy and making excuses.”

“You just need to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and you’ll be all right.”

“She’s crazy. She can’t control her own emotions.”

“He doesn’t have enough willpower to pull himself out of it. He’s weak.”

“There she goes, being anti-social again.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard one of these statements… Depression has got to be one of the few diseases left that makes the sufferer fight his battle on two fronts. Not only do we have to fight depression itself, but we also have to fight the stigma that surrounds it.

Social stigma can cause many problems for people with depression. First of all, it’s just not correct. These are stereotypes used to label people who fall outside of what’s socially considered “normal.” Stigmas about depression can also become dangerous. If we look at ourselves in terms of what society expects, which is easy to do – it’s what we see around us every day, we can often start looking at ourselves in a negative light. We become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Many people with depression struggle to admit their fights because of these stigmas. What if our best friend or spouse or boss buys into them? Have we lost some of our best potential supporters before we’ve even gotten started on our roads to recovery? Are we fighting some of these beliefs in ourselves? This can be really difficult.

We have to decide if we’re going to reveal our condition, and if we decide to do so, we also need to decide to whom. In both personal and workplace settings, revealing that we have depression can be a very intimidating proposition. We have to be prepared to face stigma immediately. Some people might try to avoid us or start making assumptions about us.


Start with someone you can trust. Someone you trust or someone who has experience or knowledge about depression is more likely to show you understanding and compassion when you talk about your problems with depression. Even if they don’t understand depression, someone you trust might be more willing to learn about it and help you through your issues. My therapist has used this approach with my wife and I on several occasions, teaching me that it’s safer to open up about things that scare me to the person I trust more than anyone else.


Opening up about your depression in the middle of a big holiday dinner might not be the best choice. Instead, find a time when you’re going to be able to discuss what you’re going through with just one or two trusted people. Try to find a way to fit it into the flow of conversation, saying something like, “I’ve got a problem I’d like to discuss with you.” I’ve found that doing it this way is easier for me and has given me more positive feedback from the person I’m talking to.


Try saying, “I’m having problems with depression.” If you say, “I’m depressed,” or “I’m manic-depressive,” you’re going to open yourself right up to stigmatization. Just because we suffer from depression doesn’t mean we’re damaged goods or lazy. Don’t label or pigeonhole yourself. You have a problem that you’re sharing with someone. You have a problem that you’re working on.


Explain your depression in terms of your daily life. Telling someone you feel sad at times and can’t explain why is much more useful than sobbing at them saying, “I’m so depressed!” If you show a measure of control while you explain your problems, you’ll be defeating several stigmas at once. You can show that you are in control of yourself, that you and your problem are separate from one another and that you’re taking ownership of your problem. You’ll be giving yourself credit for taking some steps towards furthering your own recovery.


Blaming yourself for your problems with depression is hurtful and untrue. Depression is caused by the interaction of chemicals in your brain. You can’t control it any more than you can control the color of your eyes. Be aware of your own prejudices and don’t judge yourself. It will only add to the list of things you need to work through to get better. This isn’t your fault and you certainly shouldn’t expect yourself to just be able to handle it.


There’s no need to shut yourself off from the rest of the world. Even if you haven’t found someone you can confide in about your problems yet, you should still get yourself to the doctor’s office. Ask them or contact your insurance company about referring you to a therapist. There are many support groups – locally and online – where you can find people who will understand what you’re going through.

Fighting depression can often seem like an uphill battle. Social stigmas can make it even worse. But we’re all still people. People with a problem called depression. We can use these tips to help ourselves get past the stigmas and on the road to recovery.

Jason Large,

Daily Zen.

Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at:

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