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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

The Stigma Of Depression

Many people wrongly view depression as a personal weakness or a character flaw. And they often believe the person can just "snap out of it" if they want to. But depression is a real disease, similar to any physical condition. Similar to most diseases, it has a combination of biological and environmental causes.

This misguided view of depression is slowly going away. But depression and mental illness too often lead to stigma (meaning a mark of shame or discredit). The result can be delay in diagnosis and treatment.

Your personality, moods and thoughts are made possible by biological activity in your brain. This biological activity is shaped or altered by interactions with the environment. The environment is the sum total of your past and present life experiences, including the ups and downs of important relationships. Similar to the symptoms of many physical diseases, the symptoms of depression are strongly influenced by this biology/environment interaction.

Depression is a common illness. Any of us can develop depression. It does not need to have an identifiable cause. Being rich and having a loving family does not prevent you from developing depression, just as it does not prevent you from getting cancer.

Stigma about depression causes all of us to lose out. There is no shame in getting appropriate help. The shame would be to not seek help and thereby not allow yourself and your loved ones to feel better.

Last updated September 8, 2011