For all of the memes and platforms on social media that are dedicated to destigmatizing mental health, this country still views depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health problems in some rather dark and problematic ways.
For example, a 2019 poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) showed that about half of US workers don’t trust sharing their mental health issues at work, and a third of those same workers worry that they will face negative consequences if they do.
So, when a psychiatrist took to Twitter to share that she lives with recurrent depression, it was a breath of fresh air.
Sonja Cowling, a doctor of psychiatry, shared a personal story of her experience with recurrent depression that has gone viral on Twitter, prompting many to wonder why we don’t treat mental health the same way we treat physical health.
I'm in hospital being treated for severe depression. This time triggered by a work related issue that shouldn't have happened and was not my fault. I hesitate sharing this on twitter but at the same time feel it's important. I wouldn't hesitate sharing if I was in hospital 1/2
— Sonja Cowling (@SonjaCowling) July 1, 2022
“I’m in hospital being treated for severe depression. This time triggered by a work related issue that shouldn’t have happened and was not my fault,” Cowling wrote. “I hesitate sharing this on twitter but at the same time feel it’s important. I wouldn’t hesitate sharing if I was in hospital 1/2”
The thread continued…”receiving treatment for a heart condition. We need to continue fighting the stigma. Receiving treatment for a mental health illness shouldn’t come with shame. Shame thrives in hidden quiet corners. Times are difficult. It’s okay to struggle and okay to ask and to receive help. 2/2″
receiving treatment for a heart condition. We need to continue fighting the stigma. Receiving treatment for a mental health illness shouldn't come with shame. Shame thrives in hidden quiet corners. Times are difficult. It's okay to struggle and okay to ask and to receive help.2/2
— Sonja Cowling (@SonjaCowling) July 1, 2022
It is one thing to see a mom open up on a parenting forum about their experience with anxiety or depression.
We have shared many stories from those have inspired readers to see their own mental health in a more objective and less shamed way.
But, when we see a psychiatric medical professional taking to a public platform to essentially say it happens to me too, that can go a long way to normalize mental health problems.
For some perspective on how common mental health problems are, consider these statics:
- 17.3 million American adults (7.1% of the U.S. population age 18 and older) are affected by major depressive disorder.
- Major depressive disorder is more likely to occur in women than men.
- 7 Million elderly adults (age 65 or over) are affected by major depressive disorder.
- Upwards of 70% of people who care for an elderly patient, friend, or family member experience major depressive disorder as well as caregiver burnout.
- Depression has an economic impact on employers of $100 billion annually including $40 billion from lost productivity.
The responses to Cowling’s tweet have been thoughtful and illuminating, particularly if you (like me) are affected by depression.
Some pulled out highlights of the three points that Cowling mentioned and asked insightful questions.
In one particularly interesting exchange, a Twitter user, @DrMonifaMD wrote, “#2 is so very true for me! I have to be vigilant and make sure I’m doing what I can to not become overwhelmed or distressed, otherwise I’m at risk for a horrendous relapse. I’m in a good space now & recognize I’m fortunate to be able to say that, but I have to stay vigilant.”
Guarding your peace — whatever that may be — is key to helping one recognize and manage depressive episodes. I know this. Many of us who deal with depression know this, but that self-wisdom and practice only comes from experience as Cowling describes in her response.
She wrote, “I’ve only realized this recently. That when things start feeling tough I need to up my game with self care, exposure to stress, and just protect myself in general.”
Another Twitter user pointed out something that many of us have been openly wondering about as well.
How do we know if we are having a natural depressive reaction to the state of the world or just regular ol’ depression? That’s what Anne @amobeirne wanted to know.
They wrote, “Is it ‘mental illness’ or is it just having to cope with all the [sh*t] in this [world.] Especially at the moment. I don’t feel ill even though I was a bit earlier. Migraine and cold hands. I feel a lot of other emotions though. I don’t like the term. Allows others to look down on us.”
It’s a fantastic question worth thinking deeply about especially if you are a sensitive person and are feeling intense given the political landscape right now.
Cowling had a wise and compassionate response, pointing out that illness exists no matter what the state of the world.
“I agree that it is a normal reaction to a difficult situation. But thinking of it as an illness often helps me to fight the guilt and focus on getting myself better,” Cowling wrote. “Not everyone gets clinically depressed yet we all live in the same messy world amongst messy people.”
But there were some commenters who didn’t seem to see the value in sharing personal struggles around mental health. In one particularly insensitive response, a user basically said that people need to shut up already.
Twitter user, Tim Kazuki @KazukiTim chimed in with a comment that excellently demonstrated the reason why we need to destigmatize mental health struggles.
“Your health is important. Take care of yourself. But I don’t get the purpose of talking about it outside your inner circle. Every gen has its health issues. This one’s is mental health. But for some reason it feels like people claim they have it bc it’s the trendy thing to say.”
Trendy thing to say? Or perhaps more accurately, more and more people — like Cowling — are gaining the bravery and courage to speak openly and plainly about how destructive and challenging depression can truly be.
If you are struggling with depression and need help, call The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889.