“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad,” wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Depression is estimated to affect over 350 million people worldwide – and still, it carries with it a sense of stigma that keeps many from seeking help. We often live in a state of denial, convincing ourselves that we are simply stressed out, or pessimistic, or even, as Longfellow described, cold.
Nobody wants to admit they are battling depression – and this mindset is making the disease more powerful on a global scale.
According to a study by Graham Thornicroft, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, the vast majority of people who are struggling with depression do not seek help for this devastating condition. Of those who do, few receive adequate treatment.
The primary reasons for this unfortunate disconnect include social stigma and a stunning lack of education regarding the signs of depression and the treatments that are available.
Essentially, millions of people and communities around the world are suffering each day for a simple and unnecessary lack of knowledge.
“There are really two key pieces of the puzzle,” said Brandon Kohrt, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University, when discussing the study’s findings. The first issue, he says, is the lack of trained counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in every corner of the world. “But the second thing,” he explained, “is there needs to be increased awareness that depression can be treated.”
Kohrt also stressed the importance of individual stories and advocacy in addressing these issues. “Once you manage to change the life of one person in a community, he or she can become an advocate,” he said.
In communities where depression is stigmatized or misunderstood, these advocates can be a very powerful force for social – and medical – change.
It should come as no surprise that this effect is seen more prominently amongst the poor. Of those who did seek treatment, 1 in 5 people in high-income communities received treatment plans that Thornicroft and his team deemed to be minimally adequate. In lower and middle income communities, that number fell to 1 in 27.
To tackle both issues, the World Health Organization launched its Mental Health Gap Action Programme. This initiative developed a basic training guide to help primary care providers recognize and treat common mental ailments. Along with social advocacy, this basic education should help in de-stigmatizing mental illness and providing hope for hundreds of millions worldwide.
“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare,” wrote Ned Vizzini of his own experience with depression. For the hundreds of millions worldwide who wake up in a nightmare, please know that there is hope.