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Filza Hussain, M.D., behavioral health physician at Mayo Clinic Health System, provides some expert perspective on depression and our culture's understanding of the subject.
Our relationship with the word depression is quite paradoxical. Although, on the one hand, we so freely admit that we are depressed because our team lost the Super Bowl or because the store doesn’t carry a desired outfit in our size. When it comes to talking about clinical depression, the stigma attached with the word becomes omnipotent. Rather than admitting to feelings of sadness, loss of interest in usual activities, guilt, decreased energy, difficulty with attention and concentration, and sleep difficulties, we clam up, put a bright smile on our face and pretend everything is OK.
Why do many people with depression put up a facade and act as if everything is fine? People say it’s because they're afraid of the judgment that comes with acknowledging they have a mental health disorder. Even if it's depression, some patients may say, "I don’t want anyone to know I’m nuts" or "I don’t want anyone to lock me up." It’s become so acceptable in our culture to say “be positive,” “snap out of it” or “it’s all in your head” without thinking what these statements really mean. Do you expect someone to snap out of their diabetes? Or has being positive ever changed one’s thyroid function? Perhaps that pain in your chest radiating to your arm is all in your head, after all.
Depression is a real illness. There is an organ involved (the brain), as well as receptors and hormones (i.e., neurotransmitters). There is a lot we don’t understand about this illness, which unfortunately adds to its aura of mystery. But there are treatments that work. Although you can certainly make positive changes in your life that will improve symptoms, you can’t just snap out of it. It’s not a fault or something the you did or didn’t do.
So, let’s work towards removing the stigma and mystery of depression. Please speak with your physician and ask for more information.
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