Recently, another promising young student committed suicide at my alma mater, The College of William and Mary (the third this school year), and my newsfeed was flooded with statuses urging people to reach out, offering support, and providing links to resources available to people battling depression. Some of these recognized the stigma that accompanies depression and prevents people from reaching out, and attempted to either offer anonymity to avoid the stigma, or acceptance as a way of fighting it. I do not know any of the students that took their lives this year; however, each time it hit me hard, and I was struck with a reminder: There, but for the grace of God, go I. I have been lucky to be surrounded with supportive family and friends, I know exactly how it feels to face that stigma, and it still affects the way I present myself. While support is welcome, necessary, and helpful, I don’t think that it can remove the stigma that attaches to the words: I have depression. The stigma can be fought from the inside, and so I write this to the people like me, who face depression with a brave face and a stiff upper lip.
I am a successful law student at a top 20 law school, I was a captain on every sports team I’ve played on, and I was on Dean’s List almost every semester of undergrad. And I have depression. I feel lucky that it’s mild, and that I have a support system of friends and family that help me get through the bad times, and that never let me forget that the bad times pass. I’ve considered suicide, and I still have those days where a genuine smile seems a distant memory and every thought seems bleak. There are very few people I’ve said those three words to, and writing this is one of the scariest things I’ve done. I don’t tell people not because I think my friends will brush me off, or ask that godawful question “why are you depressed?” although both those things suck. The thing I’m most scared of is that people will treat me different, as though I’m weak because I have trouble, as though I’m lesser, or broken and need to be coddled. The truth is, I am none of those things, and my depression does not define me. I have been lucky enough to find people I trust, people I could open up to, and they rewarded my trust. But depression shouldn’t be something that can only be said to those I trust, I should be able to mention it to friends without worrying that it will change the way they interact with me.
I think that only we can change the stigma. Only by showing people that we are not broken, we are not lesser, and we are not weak can we remove the stigma that prevents so many people from reaching out to friends or family, much less to the professionals that can are available to help. I believe that the way to do that is to come out of the shadows, to be as brave as my friends that have gotten help, and now tell their stories to help others who may be struggling. There are many people, like me, people that fight their battles silently, who are lucky enough to have support systems that allow us to do so. But our silence, the fact that we hide our depression, contributes to the stigma, contributes to the belief that we should be ashamed of our struggles, rather than proud that we are still here, proof that depression doesn’t define us. I don’t believe depression is a source of shame, and the way to defeat ignorance is through knowledge. I hope that you will stand with me today and help me defeat the stigma of depression.
I am depressed, and I am NOT ashamed.