Depression Stigma Sometimes Deadly

ADAP is now spreading its wings, expanding from a focus on the Baltimore-Washington area, to include a program in a Tulsa, Okla., high school system, and a program focused on college students, with Princeton University as the pilot.

Running With 'The Heard'

Another program that is fighting to decrease stigma is the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign (NMHAC). The Campaign was launched by Tipper Gore in 1999 as part of the White House Conference on Mental Health, after a surgeon general's report on mental health cited stigma as the main reason people with illness don't seek help.

Last fall the NMHAC expanded its Youth Outreach Program by recruiting and training a handful of articulate young advocates to take part in a mental health speakers' bureau, which they named "The Heard." Presentations are often given at schools, to provide positive examples of people who have dealt with mental disorders, in order to help students understand that they too can talk about their troubles.

More help in the fight against stigma comes from the Depression Is Real Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations that have come together to combat popular notions that depression is "just the blues" or a "made-up" disease. The coalition has a highly informative website, which includes audio of Nobel Prize winner Paul Greengard, talking about the nature of depression. It also includes 15 episodes of "The Down and Up Show," available as podcasts, on aspects of the illness, with this month's topic being late-life depression.

Efforts such as those of ADAP, the NMHAC, and the Depression Is Real Coalition are critical to rolling back the tide of misunderstanding, misinformation and stigma still attached to depression.

When people understand that they are dealing with a treatable medical illness, they feel more free to talk openly about it, and to seek out the potentially lifesaving help they need.

Dr. James Potash is an associate professor of psychiatry and co-director of the mood disorders program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail at moods@jhu.edu. To participate in our studies, call 1-877-MOODS-JH.

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