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The Director Discusses: Rising Above it All

Photo: John F. Greden, M.D.The facts about Depression
Depression, bipolar, and related disorders disable millions, cost billions, unnecessarily cause shame for far too many, and prematurely end more than 30,000 lives annually by suicide.  Nearly 21 million Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder during their lifetime meaning one in five of us experience these hugely burdensome brain illnesses.   

Despite all that is known, far too many people never receive a diagnosis and of those who do, not enough stick with their prescribed medication or psychotherapy treatment plan.  Why is this?

Misinformation and the fear of negative perceptions
Stigma, or the fear of being negatively labeled, is probably one of the most formidable obstacles. Misconceptions work to prevent people from accessing helpful resources and participating in treatment programs. They even cause the exacerbation of symptoms. Science leaders reaffirm that depression, bipolar, and related disorders are physical illnesses (Surgeon General Satcher, 1999), but patients and others often wrongly think differently. More than 20% of people do not fill their first antidepressant medication prescriptions, and when they do, adherence is poor.  Symptoms that are ignored and untreated can worsen and lead to recurrent episodes.

What can we do?
All of us, including health professionals can help. We can use proper terminology for depression, bipolar, and related illnesses, as well as accurate data. We can avoid “safe” labels (e.g., “exhaustion “or “nervous breakdown,”) and call these illnesses what they are. We can correct colleagues and friends when a false statement is made. Furthermore, we can encourage involvement in the cause, using cancer survivors as a model, and emphasize the potential for recovery (cancer itself was once stigmatized).

You can help. In appropriate circumstances, it is often liberating to share experiences with depression, bipolar, and related illness. When feasible, we can help people with depression, bipolar, or related illnesses re-enter the workplace. We can respond to false, incorrect statements. If we want to be a truly healthy society, we need to break down stigma and treat depression like any other health condition. It all starts with you.

I encourage you to watch our new video on Rising Above it All, and to visit the Bring Change 2 Mind website, and view their featured Public Service Announcement.  Share them with others.  Please let your voice be heard.


John F. Greden, M.D.

Read other messages from our director.