Depression, the stigma and the reality

Photo: Zeevveez/Flickr
By Yousif Farah

This week is Depression Awareness Week, a week to reflect upon our approach towards mental illness. One in four of us is likely to develop a mental illness at some stage of our lives.

The week aims to raise both awareness and funds to end the loneliness and isolation of depression, and the stigma surrounding it through highlighting what it means to live with the illness.

At Poached Creative mental health is central to our work. As well as working with many local and nationwide mental health bodies and charities including the NHS and Hackney youth charity Off Centre, we have trained many people who have suffered from depression through our Big Issue Online Journalism Course. Many of them have defeated their depression and moved on with their lives - now they are invaluable assets to us here at Poached.

Angela Williams, Deputy Director at Poached says:

“I began my training with Poached Creative when it started in 2009. I was going through some dark times with my depression, training with Poached gave me the confidence, a purpose and a “leg up” to work in a creative environment. Through more people speaking out about mental illness, we can push away the stigma and show that people from all walks of life can be affected, but also treated with dignity and respect.”

Depression - a brief history
It wasn't until the fifties that depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder by medical care professionals, was linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Prior to that, mental health patients were locked in asylums and treated through basic methods which included sedation, baths and even electrical shocks. At the time, many people dismissed depression as a weakness in the patient’s personality or willpower.

1959 saw the introduction of the landmark Mental Health Act, followed up by advances in psychiatry and drug treatment, and greater emphasis on human rights accompanied by advances in social science and institutionalisation theory. 

More recently, steps have been taken in terms of addressing the issue in the UK.

In the 2010 Equality Act a mental health illness is recognised as a disability if it has a long-term effect on the patient’s normal day-to-day life.

Mental health in the media
Mental health, and depression in particular, are topics often neglected in the mainstream media, overshadowed by coverage of other physical illnesses. 

Public figures such as Alastair Cambell have contributed to a better understanding of mental health issues.
Sadly, some people still ridicule mental illness and those affected by it.

This is what television personality Katie Hopkins had to say to patients suffering from depression:

"To be diagnosed as depressed is the holy grail of illness for many. The ultimate passport to self-obsession. Get a grip, people".

Her remarks caused a public outrage. Katie Hopkins is known for making controversial statements so it's hard to know whether she has been educated of the realities of depression, or whether she views mental illness through subjective light.

The reality of life for a depressed person is bleak: performing daily tasks which a mentally stable person normally takes for granted such as reading a book, talking to a friend or even getting out of bed represents a challenge.

When the demons of depression take over the patient’s life, they can become emotionally destabilised or disconnected and end up isolating themselves. The more severe the symptoms, the more isolated the person becomes, and unless treated the depression is likely to have a devastating impact on someone’s career, relationships or even own life.

Fortunately, organisations like the Depression Alliance, who are behind Depression Awareness Week, have information and help available on their website.

Find out more about Depression Awareness Week and how you can get involved.

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