Depression Is Still a Stigma

Despite government educational campaigns costing millions and many famous faces coming out of the closet to reveal that the “black dog” has figured prominently on their lives, the stigma surrounding depression and mental illness in general lives on.

In a recent Australian survey published in the journal Biomed Central, it was found that 20%, or one in five people, said they would not work with someone suffering from depression. This is despite the fact that depression alone affects a significant proportion of the population.

The survey was conducted by Professor Kathy Griffith and Professor Helen Christiansen of the Australian National University and Professor Anthony Jorm from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The mean age of onset of depression is 25 years but the average age of onset appears to be decreasing, meaning that younger and younger members of our society are experiencing this painful, yet not uncommon condition. This trend is apparent worldwide. Similar figures for age at initial diagnosis of depression can be found from the US to Uruguay, from Beirut to Berlin.

Despite these alarming facts, our education about depression is falling behind. If one in five Australians do not want to work with a depressed person, then we can safely extrapolate that one out of five people from anywhere in the world would not want to work with a depressed person. The reality is that many of us are already unknowingly working with a depressed person who chooses to hide their condition as much as possible for fear of job loss or personal stigma. Small wonder that many people still feel obliged to put on a mask and pretend that everything is okay.

According to the survey, the groups most likely to express this discriminating belief about depressed persons are male, have low educational standards or are migrants whose country of origin has perhaps formed their belief system. Females and higher-educated participants were less likely to report discrimination against sufferers of depression. There was also little difference in response from participants from rural versus urban areas.

Clearly the stigma associated with more pervasive mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder would likely be even higher. This is sad news indeed because, to assist recovery, sufferers of mental illness require as much support as people suffering from physical illnesses. Mental illness is not of the sufferers choosing, so it seems unfair to discriminate again a condition that was neither courted nor wanted.

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