Depression: good to discuss
Last year I wrote a blog post on Blue Monday, an international day which serves to raise awareness for depression. This year, Blue Monday was on January 15. The week before, on January 9, the Dutch Ministry of Public Health started a national campaign with the aim of making it easier to talk about depression, particularly for adolescents and young adults.
“over 800,000 currently depressed people in the Netherlands alone”
Depression is common. According to the Ministry of Public Health, there are over 800,000 currently depressed people in the Netherlands alone. Last November, the Ministry conducted a survey among over 1,500 respondents. It demonstrated that many depressed people would like to mention their situation to others, but often find it difficult to do so. Moreover, these “others”, including family and friends, tend to avoid the topic because they are afraid of causing extra stress.
The vicious cycle is obvious. Consider a woman who feels depressed. When she and others in her environment do not talk about her depression, her inability to share her feelings may lead her to feel increasingly lonely. As a result, she may end up feeling even more sad. Gradually, mild depression might turn into severe depression: depressive symptoms increase in quantity, but may also change in quality, for example suicidal thoughts might emerge.
“To break the cycle, someone has to start talking.”
To break the cycle, someone has to start talking. This idea is at the core of the national campaign, which uses “Hey, it’s okay!” as its slogan. The campaign focuses on the social environment of depressed people. Relatives and friends are asked to initiate the conversation, preferably one-on-one. While this may be difficult if you have never been depressed yourself, you can probably imagine that for many depressed people it might even be more difficult. The public stigma of depression may be less now than a few years ago, but depressed people continue to suffer from self-stigma, which occurs when public attitudes about depression, which are often negative, are internalized (Corrigan & Rao, 2012).
So what to do, if you are a relative or friend of someone who is showing depressive symptoms? (Often we can recognize the symptoms of depression quite easily, for example from someone’s facial expressions, posture and speech; Segrin, 2010) There is a Dutch-language website on stigma that offers concrete suggestions for starting a conversation. There are also suggestions for people who are depressed and thinking of discussing their situation with others. Two general tips: Prepare, and do not judge.
“Prepare, and do not judge.”
What about those of you who do not speak Dutch? The website of the World Health Organization (WHO) also offers advice on what to do when you know someone with depression. As depression is a very common mental problem world-wide, in 2016 the WHO organized the year-long international campaign “Depression: Let’s talk.” The aims of the campaign were to better inform the general public about depression, to get people with depression to seek help more, and to make it easier for family and friends of people with depression to provide support. The campaign ended on 10 October 2017, World Mental Health Day. In a year’s time, there had been over 300 campaign activities in many countries across the world. The core message? An open dialogue about depression is needed to raise awareness, build understanding, and reduce stigma.
Corrigan, P.W., and Rao, D. (2012) On the self-stigma of mental illness: Stages, disclosures, and strategies for change. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 57(8): 464-469.
Segrin, C.G. (2010) Depressive disorders and interpersonal processes. In L. M. Horowitz & S. Strack (Eds.), Handbook of Interpersonal Psychology (pp. 425-448). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
- www.heyhelpt.nl, the website of the “Hey it’s Okay” campaign (in Dutch)
- www.samensterkzonderstigma.nl, the website on stigma (in Dutch)
- “To my loved ones”, documentary about depression and suicide among youth (in Dutch)
- www.who.int/depression/en, WHO website on depression (in English)
- www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2017/en/, WHO website on 2017 World Health Day (in English)
Image by James Byrum, licenced under CC BY 2.0