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Knight: Society's Depression Stigma

Written By Editor on 10/3/14 | 10/3/14

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once quipped that, "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

While his comments pertained specifically to national defense related issues at the time, they can be used to explain American attitudes toward depression, and the stigma that is attached to mental health topics in general. 

We all know that depression exists, that millions of individuals suffer with mental distress for any number of reasons, and that without obtaining the resources necessary to address it, suicide can often seem like the last option for depressed souls. 

However, the real question is: why does it have to reach that point?

The answer, at least in my opinion, is because society as a whole does not understand the nature of depression, or its warning signs, or its symptoms, or its causes, or its solutions; and because of this lack of understanding, members of society balk at what they don't know. 

True, as stated before, we generally know the concept of depression exists, but beyond the outlying signs, there is a knowledge gap. A knowledge gap that has harmed mental health awareness for years, due to the fear of those afflicted that no one will understand their condition, or that society will judge them as outcasts. 

Furthermore, this stigma has only been advanced by the collective ignorance of American society that places too much emphasis on strength, will, and determination, while leaving those unable behind to trug along by themselves with no help.

Sure, "strength, will, and determination," might be a great catchphrase for nations declaring war, but they might not be able to save the soldiers returning home who have PTSD, or the young student who has difficulty finding worth in their own life during a strenuous time period adjusting to his or her academic situation. 

The scariest aspect of Rumfeld's comments are the unknown unknown, which by definition we know nothing of, but think about that for a second... When you take a walk, or go to the grocery store, stop and consider how many people around you have contemplated suicide or self harm, and then ask yourself how many of them have kept that to themselves because of how they thought you would respond...

... And that's why we, as a society, must change our attitudes toward mental health in this nation, or else those afflicted with depression will never be able to come out of the shadows, and embrace the light of life.

I apologize for the directness of my column this week, but enough is enough. Depression can no longer be approached idly, with uncommitted attitudes. It must be addressed with care, with love, and with understanding
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