I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in March of this year. Many people will see this as a dangerous confession -- what if some future employer or lover or friend stumbles across this news on the Internet and decides I'm too "mentally unstable" to be associated with? Other people, however, will see this as courageous, and will recognize that depression is a sickness, not a sign of inferiority.
These responses are very similar to what a member of the LGBTQ community faces when coming out. Being gay has long been considered a "deviant" behavior or even a mental illness, and revealing one's sexual orientation remains a painful and deeply alienating process for many around the world. Yet, as the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 highlights, Americans' attitudes about homosexuality are finally shifting. The ubiquity of the rainbow flag says that yes, "gay is okay."
Depression affects 1 in 10 adults in the United States and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, but there is still no rainbow flag to show how many of us are united by this disease. When was the last time you heard someone say they were an "ally" for mental illness? How often do your friends or acquaintances admit without embarrassment that they see a therapist? If you yourself have been diagnosed with depression, how many people have you been able to tell without fearing judgment for being "crazy" or too vulnerable? Depression itself is isolating enough without the mistrust or condescension it invites in others, and there is no reason that so many of us should have to endure it in silence and in shame.
If we as a society can understand that being gay is not the same thing as "experimenting," maybe we can someday understand that depressed people are not simply "having a bad day." The first step is to pass on the message: being depressed is okay. Being depressed does not make you unlovable or unemployable or "damaged." Being depressed -- and this is often the hardest to remember -- still makes you a worthy human being.
So next time a friend or family member admits that he or she is depressed, take it as the coming-out that it is. Be kind. Be patient. And above all, do not turn away.
5 Myths About Being Gay That Also Apply to Depression:
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General Election: Nov 3, 2020
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