Unpacking the stigma of depressionWritten by Wendy Kittlitz
What's inside this article
A few years ago, I attended a workshop on treating depression and the presenter made a remark that has stuck with me. He said that virtually everyone present in the room could find themselves experiencing depression if they experienced sufficient stressors in sufficient intensity. I am not sure if that is completely true, but it was a very humbling thought.
For many people, recognizing and admitting to feeling depressed still carries a stigma, a kind of shame. People who are depressed have been pictured as weak, incapable of handling what life has thrown at them or even perhaps too lazy to rise above their circumstances and "get on with it." Though I have seldom heard anyone say this overtly, it is communicated subtly both externally (by other people) and internally (within ourselves).
The stigma of depression
Particularly in the Christian community, it seems people have heard the message that depression is a result of not praying enough, having enough faith, or serving God enough – "good Christians don’t get depressed."
I hear this most often when people whisper about being on antidepressant medication. While some eagerly share this fact with everyone they meet, many more quietly take their medication in secret, hoping no one finds out. Others refuse to try it for fear it will confirm some kind of inability to cope. I am not suggesting that every depression requires medication, but I would suggest that every depression requires some kind of treatment.
My great concern is that a lot of people, because of this shame-based thinking about depression, fail to reach out and get the help that is available to them. Counselling, at times combined with medication (under the supervision of a doctor), can be very effective at alleviating this problem. People should feel no hesitation about seeking help for depression; there is nothing shameful in admitting we need assistance!
My favourite way of thinking about combatting depression is found in the Bible verse that says we should "take every thought captive to Christ." Depression is often associated with believing lies; what we think has a great impact on how we feel. If we believe (and tell ourselves) that we are worthless, life is hopeless, no one loves us, or nothing will ever get better, we are believing and living falsehoods. Gary Smalley, in his recent book Change Your Heart, Change Your Life does an excellent job of describing how applying God’s truth to our distorted ways of thinking can change us dramatically.
We often need someone else to help us identify these thinking patterns and consciously change them. This is where a good Christian counsellor can be a great help. Examining our faulty thinking with an objective person can lead us to believe what God says is true about us and about our circumstances; this is the path to healing.
Understanding other factors
We must also remember that some cases of depression are caused, at least in part, by genetic and physiological factors. This is why I strongly urge anyone who thinks they may be depressed to see their doctor for a medical screening and interview to determine if this is the case in their situation. All the counselling in the world will not alleviate depression if it is caused by physiological factors.
If you think you may be suffering from depression, please call 1.800.661.9800 and speak with one of our counsellors to help you sort out your next steps in moving forward.
Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada.
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