Imagine that your brain doesn’t work like it should. Imagine that the most essential organ of your body can no longer function to support your daily needs; that you now rely on medication for basic happiness. For one in four young Australian’s diagnosed with a mental illness, this is their reality. So as a society how do we choose support these people? We stigmatise and discriminate.
People diagnosed with depression face an overwhelming amount of prejudice. The condition itself, age, gender and race may alter these judgments slightly; however, no one seems able to fully escape it. I appreciate that depression may be a hard concept for some to understand, but as a society we absolutely must make the effort. There is decidedly no excuse for this discriminative behaviour.
Similar to the casual use of words such as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’, depression has also lost its true meaning. When people throw this word around to describe a one off sad emotion instead of the illness, it completely diminishes the legitimacy of this severe condition. The blanket response is “just get over it” or “why can’t you just be happy”. The real issue begins when these established attitudes are forced on those truly depressed. For them, this isn’t just a bad day – it’s an ongoing battle.
Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Many stubbornly refuse to accept depression as a legitimate condition due to its lack of physical appearance. When I play netball, I always strap both ankles as they are weak and injury prone. Not only does this help avoid painful incidents but also communicates to both my team members and opposing players that I have a weakness. People tend to be much more lenient and understanding of a physical injury as it has a straightforward diagnosis and can be clearly demonstrated. Mental illness presents many challenges including a clear recognition, diagnosis, treatment and duration. Depression is a real and present danger to many individuals. It’s just more complicated than weak ankles.
I ask you now; when human beings do not understand or aren’t familiar with something, how does our natural instinct urge us to react? We fear it, and by doing so, distance ourselves from it. In the past this “fight or flight” instinct has saved us from poisonous fruit, strange animals and high-risk environments. “Survival of the fittest” also largely affects our judgment of people. Those who aren’t as physically or mentally strong as others, tend to be left behind or cast out to fend for themselves, preventing them from slowing down others. Nevertheless, we cannot let this take its toll on our compassion for those struggling with depression. Contrary to the media and false pretenses created by movies, these people aren’t a danger to our lives. We must put aside these habits and fallacious beliefs for the greater good of all those affected by the stigma of being different or mental illnesses.
Historically, Australia has a deplorable record of managing the mentally ill. For generations we have locked those ‘crazy’ people in insane asylums, segregated from the rest of the community. Although the way we have treated mental illness has vastly improved, it still hasn’t gone anywhere near far enough. If we were more supportive and understanding, the need for psychiatric institutions could be greatly lowered. Depression sufferers could get help faster without stigmatisation, prolonging their mental health and even assisting in treatment.
Beyond Blue, a proactive organisation, says most depression sufferers feel that dealing with the condition itself isn’t nearly as daunting or frightening as taking the necessary steps to get help. The ignorant and discriminative judgment from our society of those with mental illnesses prohibits people from focusing on their health instead of what others think of them. If we continue in this direction, then we are depriving them of a healthy mental state. The shame we place on the mentally ill not only affects their well-being, but also endangers their lives. 75% of young Australians that commit suicide have been diagnosed with at least one mental illness. In 2012, 324 people aged 16 to 24 ended their lives, meaning that approximately 243 of those individuals were mentally ill. This proves the crisis we are facing and the desperate need for an effective mental health strategy. The most proactive way to fight the battle of depression is with professional help and compassionate support. Can you even comprehend the years of potential life lost in just our country?
In the words of the humanitarian Mahatma Gandhi, “a true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” It’s time to lift the lid once and for all on the stigma of mental illness. If we can become more aware of the symptoms of depression, countless lives can be changed. Let’s start today by turning to the person next to us and asking, “R U OK?”
To learn more about depression, visit:
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact Lifeline at:
Or call: 13 11 14