"You're so brave." That's what most people say when I explain my memoir, Struck by Living. The book details my struggle with clinical depression. Funny, admitting depression doesn't feel brave, maybe a little embarrassing, but nothing that deserves a badge of honor. Short, straight hair that defies alteration, mother, athletic build, dark brows, writer, green eyes; one who survived three suicide attempts just gives me a little texture.
My husband, surrounded with my blatant honesty about the topic, claims stigma no longer exists. He's wrong. He doesn't hear souls opened to me after each speech. He doesn't know which of his friends have asked for help and begged me not to tell him.
Today, even with the monumental gains we have made in the past 50 years in psychiatry, measurement tools for detection of mental illness and progress of the disease remain abstract. Depression is intangible and invisible. For many, this means depression can't exist.
Luckily, we're making progress. Brain scans now track reaction and hyperactivity in the brain, helping scientists understand the electro-chemical reaction of medication, therapy and exercise on the brain. Our attitudes lag behind these advances. The FAA disqualifies pilots if they take antidepressants. Physicians are denied hospital access and sometimes licenses if they admit taking anti-depressant medication. These rules prevent people from being honest about the disease. Dishonesty leads to shame, shame leads to stigma, stigma prevents acceptance of the disease as real and therefore research is not adequately funded.
My book, Struck by Living, is my personal effort to show that one can suffer from depression and be a fully functional person in our world. Any profits made from Struck by Living will be donated to research and programs to help battle mental illness.
How honest have you been about mental illness? With communication comes awareness, which leads to research. More research will allow creation of measurement tools, better medication and more successful programs to battle the disease. Join me in my effort to change the stigma about mental illness. Over 30,000 people annually commit suicide in the US. Where is the outrage? Be honest. Speak out.
Julie K. Hersh