Speak up. End the stigma.


The world was shocked last week by the suicide of Robin Williams. The news sent half the world reeling, wondering how this hilarious, kind, warm man could have done such a thing. Later, we found out that on top of having struggled with addiction, anxiety, and depression, Mr. Williams also had Parkinson's disease. That was easier for us to understand than depression. At first, however, all we knew was that he suffered from mental illness. Many condolences and speculations were made, talk about depression and its awful effects began, while others called the act selfish and cowardly. Ah, there it is: the stigma. The message is that the depressed and anxious are weak. That suffering is something we don't have to feel and we can brush aside and control all by ourselves. That's the key to the message: do it by yourself.

Because here in the U.S. we give independence (particularly male independence) the highest value. We laud the solo entrepreneur, the guy who "pulled himself up by his bootstraps" and "made something of himself". People talk about "personal responsibility" and "welfare babies"; our lawmakers cut funding to public programs and unemployment. The message we receive from all this? "If you need help, it's your fault." Many of us have internalized this and think, "I cannot ask for help because it shows weakness." But that's bullshit. It's bullshit we tell ourselves out of fear. Because we don't want to think of ourselves in that sort of situation. "It hasn't happened to me and it won't happen to me because I am strong and responsible. I can handle this." And it's understandable that people are afraid of losing their jobs and not being able to find another, becoming disabled, not having control over the rate of their own reproductivity, or being so depressed or anxious that they can't bear to face another day.

Now really, when you live in a society that constantly sends the message that those who need others are weak, it is truly courageous to ask for help. Not to mention the fact that the idea of complete independence is totally bunk. We are interdependent. The solo entrepreneur wouldn't exist without other people, including customers, bank tellers, furniture makers, constructions workers, police, doctors, lawyers... the list goes on and on. No one is independent. Not one of us. So let's stop the stigma dead in it's tracks. It's ok to ask for help. We all need people and we're all here for each other.

Say it with me, "I am interdependent."

P.S. I linked to this video about depression above, but I wanted to make sure you see it. It's a brave account of the illness by a teen comic and a request to end the stigma and the silence. He makes so many important points, including that depression is an issue, not an identity, that everyone knows hurt, and that we have to embrace the light with the dark, "accepting ourselves for who we are, not who the world wants us to be."