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Stigma: The Cloud That Hangs Over Depression

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

By Hope Chookazian

This article is part of our "Faces of Depression" series, in honor of Depression Awareness Month.

TW: Depression

Photo of the Counseling Center (photo by Leah Dwyer)

Approximately 280 million people worldwide live with depression, according to the CDC, yet it remains highly stigmatized and misunderstood in society. Due to its complex nature, it can be difficult to understand and even recognize when you or someone you know has depression.

“It’s an overall lowering of mood,” Cathie Chester, director of the counseling and behavioral health center on campus, said. “Depression is very complicated and individual, but it’s really the overall lowering of mood and a person’s ability to function.”

Chester, who is a psychologist and has been working in college counseling centers for 35 years, was drawn to college counseling because of the level of outreach that can be done.

“College is transformative and every person who goes to college, it changes them,” Chester said. “People can go to therapy and not change very much.”

Depression carries around the stigma of just being sad, or lazy. For those who experience it, it’s much more than that.

“There’s tiredness from everyday stuff like work, but then there’s that depressive tiredness where you don’t want to leave your bed,” Robert Cornal, a senior media studies and anthropology major said.

Cornal, originally from Las Vegas, remembers feeling symptoms of depression as a child. He recalled the times he experienced bullying throughout his life, and how it was hard for him to make friends after moving to New York at age 10.

Mack Gomez, a junior theatre performance major, has also experienced depressive symptoms since a young age although they did not receive a formal diagnosis until their senior year of high school.

“I cycled through a lot of therapists and psychiatrists who gave me bad diagnoses,” they said. “I was able to get with the right people who were more suitable for me in my senior year.”

Gomez, originally from North Carolina, recalled their senior year of high school being extremely rough.

“I was volatile as a child and it started to present itself differently than that my senior year,” they said.

Due to this complexity, they were unsure about the link between their volatile past and their symptoms now.

Irritability and anger are how depression often manifests itself in people.

“I had a bad tendency of lashing out,” Cornal said. “I didn’t want to be in that moment in time, in that body.”

Chester explained that being angry or irritable, especially as a child or young adult, can oftentimes be mistaken as acting out when they are experiencing depression. It can also work the opposite way, where a well-behaved child is overlooked as shy or quiet when they too, are suffering.

Gomez also experienced similar physical aspects of depression as Cornal.

“I feel a desire to sleep constantly, not because I’m tired,” they said. “If it gets to a really bad point it can cause a lack of motivation in class and attention difficulty.”

They noted that they can get stuck in a never-ending cycle. The lack of motivation caused by their depression brings feelings of shame, further fueling their depressive symptoms.

Both Gomez and Cornal suggest finding a physical activity for those who experience depression. While Cornal finds relief working out, Gomez loves to write and roleplay with friends.

Physical activity or hobbies can be used as a self-help tactic for those who feel their mood lowering. Chester explained the most effective forms of therapy to treat depression are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), behavioral activation, and sometimes medication.

Treatment is not a one-size-fits-all. Mental health professionals decide what method to use on an individual level with the presenting factors.

Chester discussed a self-help tool called Therapy Assistance Online, or TAO. It is a tool that is free to Purchase College students.

“It really is therapy online for people, it’s great,” Chester said.

On TAO you can learn about depression, anxiety, and much more. It also comes with interactive sessions, mindfulness exercises, and practice tools to help you achieve your goals.

Purchase is also one of the SUNY schools that uses Thriving Campus, a program to help students find mental health providers in their area, wherever they are. To use Thriving Campus, students can type an address into the search bar, including the college's, and it will pull up providers near them.

The Thriving Campus website (screenshot by Marcia Hunt)

While depression carries many stigmas, there’s one that can be especially damaging. Throughout society, men are held to a standard where they must be tough and suppress their emotions. When constantly confronted with the idea that “boys don’t cry,” they begin to instinctively keep their emotions and depressive symptoms to themselves.

“In terms of gender expression in traditional gender roles, females are given permission to exhibit more depression symptoms such as crying and low energy, and men aren’t and they try and mask it," said Chester.

Chester explained this repression of these symptoms in men can lead to substance abuse more quickly.

“Our society’s tolerance for people in pain is low,” Chester said. “And for cis-male appearing people it’s very low, but for people in marginalized or oppressed identities it’s almost not safe for them to express it anywhere.”

Cornal who is a Latino, Filipino male experiences the stigma associated with both being a man and within his culture.

“As a Latino, I’m expected to be manly and strong,” he said, “Then as a male, you are held to the standard of your looks and to be the stoic type. I’m not sure if I want to be that.”

Young adults living with depression can face judgment throughout society, but also at home. Both Gomez and Cornal had adults in their life who didn’t understand mental health, or why they would need to seek help.

“I have one parent on my side, and one who is not,” Gomez said. “That’s not the case for everyone.”

Gomez detailed that’s one of the things that led to a strain between them and their father.

“My dad doesn’t believe in mental health medication or mental health in general,” they said.

Cornal's family members also didn't approve of him seeking help.

“They said I shouldn’t need a therapist, and felt it carried the stigma of seeking help when I am a 'perfectly healthy human being,'” he said.

The backlash he received made him feel ashamed, but he tired of living in that shame.

“I chose life over whittling away,” he said.

Chester expresses how mental health is viewed differently from culture to culture, but also the fear it is usually based in.

“People think if ‘I lose my mind, I lose my identity,’” she said. “Talking about feelings, or thoughts you can’t control sounds close to that.”

Independence, control, and success are some words American society is rooted in. Mental health issues require help from other people.

“Talking about subjects [like mental health] makes people feel unsuccessful and weak," Chester said. "Because of the way our society constructs success and interdependence, we aren’t supposed to need anyone."

Chester believes that this new generation of young adults recalibrating the definition of success to include mental wellness, not just financial success, will help destigmatize mental health.

Cornal shared some advice for other young adults who may be struggling.

“Put time toward something that makes you happy and is healthy and productive,” he said. “It’s the small stuff that can impact how you see yourself. Drink water, go for a walk. If you take care of your body, it takes care of you.”

The Counseling Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information on the services that are available to students, visit their website.


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