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The Stigma attached to Mental Illness and Depression.

Depression — admin @ 5:46 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week our discussions have been about the stigma associated with depression or mental illness generally. Even to put it in those terms is to point to the problem because to label something as ‘depression’ or ‘mental illness’ is the kind of thinking that leads to stigma. The history of mental health and ill health is replete with various conditions being described, categorised and labelled. Mental illness has not been well understood and those unlucky enough to be given a diagnosis were often removed completely from society. If these things were discussed at all it was in whispered tones.
This kind of denial pointed to the fear surrounding anything concerned with mental health. Some would say that this fear is really about our own personal concern that we might catch it ourselves. It is probably fair to say that we seek reassurance in this regard and that our wish is that any bout of emotional ill health can be cleared up simply and quickly. We like to believe that there are definitive solutions that can return a person to ‘normality’ without delay. Whatever the reason for this it can lead to an ‘us and them’ attitude towards those affected by what is called mental illness. Not talking about it and not wanting to know about it has probably led to a generally poor level of understanding about the whole area of mental health.
Clients often report feelings of discomfort or fear if they have to miss work because of depression or stress. It can be felt that employers take a dim view of absence for mental health reasons and that these conditions can be easily feigned. Return to work interviews after a period of illness can be especially difficult as can the prospect of facing work colleagues again. Often the temptation is to try to hide that real reason for the absence.
There can be apprehension that a trust in the employee will be broken and that they will never be regarded the same way again. The fear is that this can mean being discriminated against; maybe being passed over for promotion or regarded as unreliable. We have heard examples of employers showing an enlightened attitude to these matters. A supportive and understanding response will of course bring its own rewards and will make it easier for the person involved to return to a fuller participation in all aspects of their lives.
People also report difficulties in their personal lives following, for example, a prolonged period of depression. Friends may drop off and avoid contact because they run out of patience or because they find it difficult to know what to do. Sometimes this involves blame and recrimination as personal relationships become fraught and difficult to manage. These are understandable because it is difficult at times to know what the right thing is to do or to say. However, this loss of friendship at this time can be experienced as yet another deeply felt personal rejection.
Stigma is like a mark that we put on someone who is judged to be suffering from mental illness. It can be difficult to remove once it has become attached. However, stigma can be tackled through education and understanding. If ‘breakdown’ and different forms of ‘mental illness’ were better understood we could have a society which was more accepting of it. The counselling and psychotherapy community have a responsibility to help get this message across. Mental ill health can be temporary and with good care a full recovery is achievable. An open, accepting, and non-judgemental attitude will alleviate a great deal of suffering and facilitate better outcomes.

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