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Fran’s story

“I have remained quiet about the depths of my major depression and anxiety disorder to most people because of fear that people will view me as weak, less professionally competent, and unreliable.”

What kind of stigma did you experience/observe?

I have struggled with depression and anxiety for my entire adult life, with a particularly severe and debilitating episode occurring this year.

Stigma to me is experienced in subtle ways. I have remained quiet about the depths of my major depression and anxiety disorder to most people because of fear that people will view me as weak, less professionally competent, and unreliable. I quit my job rather than apply for medical leave for fear that knowledge of my depression and anxiety would impact my organization’s view of me. It felt more acceptable to leave it as a “medical condition,” so that others didn’t think of me as having serious moral or character flaws.

At times, when I have put myself out there to those close to me, it is often met with short term empathy and quick attempts to give me solutions, followed by subsequent avoidance and silence of the topic. Often it feels like people feel comfortable with a certain level of depression that allows for affectionate teasing or witty banter about neuroses. As the content gets darker, I feel that people begin to distance themselves emotionally and physically.

I feel that people find ways to avoid me, cut off conversations with depressive tones, or meet my every statement with a solution, which makes me feel like depression is a choice and my experience is self-inflicted (Have you tried going on walk? But you are so smart! I am sure you can do it! How about going to the gym?). Most often, it feels like people want to listen once and then move on. Unfortunately, major depression doesn’t work that way. It’s hard.

How did you overcome this experience?

I have not overcome stigma in my own life, but I try and combat it regularly by trying to be as empathetic as possible with others who are struggling. This includes listening to and validating people’s experiences and sharing my own experiences with medication and therapy to others as a way of showing them that lots of people seek treatment.

I have recently tried to collect as many stories as possible of strong people who have mental illness and have found ways to live meaningful and impactful lives with these illnesses.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

Stigma is fed by silence and shame. It takes bravery and strength to wake up and fight every day. Maybe the best and bravest way to combat stigma is to accept that you are brave and strong and your story holds power to change someone else’s life.

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