The Damaging Effects of Stigmas Associated with Depression
Individuals suffering with anxiety and depression also suffer from social stigmas associated with
“Our culture has a fairly rigid definition of what constitutes appropriate behavior, and there is definitely a social stigma associated with depression,” says Joseph Hullett, MD, senior medical director of clinical strategy for OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions in Golden Valley, Minn.
This was particularly true in 1978, when the medical community hadn’t acknowledged the widespread epidemic of depression that was unfolding before them.
Unfortunately, I was right in the middle of that era with a severe case of anxiety/depression. At that time, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I dropped out of college, moved back in with my parents and rode out the storm. For two weeks I was unable to eat and didn’t sleep a wink. Medication, what little was available, was out of the question. One would be admitting defeat and would be considered weak and without faith. Months later my faith did lift me out of the darkest pit I’d ever known.
Seventeen years later, I found myself in the very same pit. Although I still felt shame about my seemingly lack of mental health, I sought medical advice and a prescription for the unrelenting panic attacks. My decision, though a good one, played a huge role in the postponement of my Transverse Myelitis (TM) diagnosis.
When I started experiencing difficulty walking I knew something wasn’t right. Besides being wracked with fear, I was embarrassed. I thought the side effects of the antianxiety medications were to blame for my physical challenges. Eventually I visited my Primary Care Physician and even convinced him that my compromised gait was a result of the medication. We tapered me off the meds and determined to wait a few months while monitoring the results.
During those months, I was mortified that I had needed medication for my mental stability. I tried to hide my symptoms so people wouldn't ask questions I was too embarrassed to answer. No one would understand why I was taking antidepressants (or so I thought). Not even family members were privy to my dirty little secret, though they noticed my change of gait and lack of energy.
Obviously, eliminating the medication from my system didn’t solve the problem. That's when my Primary Care Physician finally referred me to a Neurologist. After identifying a lesion on my spinal cord, I underwent further tests and succumbed to intravenous steroid treatments. The three day course of heavy doses of Prednisone was the only procedure available at the time. If the lesion was still in the inflammation stages there was a remote chance of the steroids reversing the damage, provided they could penetrate the mylar sheath. If the lesion was a result of scarring, there was no cure. My six months of delays had put my odds at the latter option.
Although my depression wasn't directly responsible for delaying my diagnosis, it was a factor. Had I not felt so humiliated by what I considered to be mental instability, I may have let more people in and asked more questions. Maybe I wouldn't have taken such a wide detour to finding the truth.
Anxiety and depression are quite debilitating. Too often their devastating effects derail one from his/her track in life. I've experienced it, and seen it, way too often. Who knows, maybe the new direction is the one God planned for us all along, but getting there can be quite painful and demoralizing.
I was fortunate to have understanding and supportive friends and family (once I let them into my life). I also spent three painful years in counseling assisted by medication therapy. Throughout these trials I relied heavily on my faith in our Savior. I've been free of depression (assisted by antidepressants) for twenty-three years now and enjoy the independence that offers me. I encourage anyone dealing with emotional challenges to be patient with yourselves and let people into your lives.
And always, ALWAYS, remember that your Father in Heaven loves you.
Newly diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis?
Overwhelmed, in a panic, or don’t know where to start?
We know firsthand how difficult being diagnosed with a rare neuro-immune disorder can be. We know how frightening and isolating it can be to live with a condition so rare and life changing. You are fine one day, and then are suddenly unable to move, see, or feel your body. You probably have never heard of your disorder before you were affected. You may be lucky enough to have support from friends and family members, but something seems to be missing; you know no one else with a rare neuro-immune disorder. No one knows the searing pain, the fatigue, the sense of anxiety and confusion.
If you haven’t done so already, please take a few minutes to become a member of The Transverse Myelitis Association. There is no cost to do so and we will keep you informed of the latest information on treatments, research and management of rare neuro-immune disorders as well as our programs.
We acknowledge that this is not a community any of us wants to be a part of, but please know that we are here for you. You are not alone. We are here to help. We are here to guide you through it all and to support you.