Category Archives: Stigma

Are mental health issues within indigenous youth bearing the marks of the past?


In Oct 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Iqaluit, Nunavut for the Arctic Youth Ambassador Summit (AYAS). Throughout this summit, I had the chance to interact with indigenous youth and learn about the mental health issues they face. Many indigenous youth with mental health issues unfortunately commit suicide. Some of the leading causes of suicide include depression, alcohol & drug abuse, hopelessness, sexual & domestic abuse, and homelessness. The suicide rate of First Nations males between the ages of 15-24 is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous male youth. For First Nations females the rate is 35 per 100,000 compared to 5 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous females. Suicide rates of Inuit youth are 11 times the national average. Although the government has developed various programs to overcome the impacts of residential schools, there is still a lot that needs to be done to improve the mental health of indigenous youth. When it comes to mental health, the resources are limited and wait lists are long, making it harder for the youth to get access to proper mental health care.

Through my interaction with the indigenous youth in Iqaluit, I learnt about the stigma against the mental health issues they face and the lack of trust in the programs provided by the government. The fact that the social and mental health workers are not indigenous themselves or cannot speak indigenous languages increases this mistrust. The stigma and mistrust thus leads to youth not looking for help. One way to combat this issue is to create youth ambassadors who are from Iqaluit so that they can help other youth to come forward and get the mental health care they need through them. It may be easier to open up to someone who is young, comes from the same culture, and understands the impact that trauma has on someone. It is also better to approach this situation through someone who is from the same culture and speaks the same language, as a lot of the aboriginal communities do not fully trust the services provided by the government. These steps may help increase mental health awareness and decrease the suicide rate among indigenous youth.

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Coming out: How to Support your LGBTQ Teenager


Coming out can be hard a hard experience, but not just for the person coming out, but also for their family. It is particularly hard when the person coming out is a teenager this is a time of identity development and there are often social pressures to just fit in and not stand out. Sometimes families can also add to the stress by not taking the right measures even if they want to help. Unfortunately, the stress from so many different directions leads teenagers to anxiety and depression. Here are some of the ways you can be a responsible parent to your coming out teenager.

1. Be a good listener: It is very important to give your child the time to explain how they feel to ease the coming out experience. They might not want to explain everything to you which is fine, but do encourage them to come to you if they feel unsafe as the result of coming out.

2. Learn about the LGBTQ community: It is extremely important to take some time to learn more about the LGBTQ community. Learn about what they stand for and what challenges they may face, so that you can be on the same page as your child. This will show that you want to be involved in your child’s life and are willing to go out of your way to know what your child is going through.

3. Be open-minded: This might be the first time somebody in your family came out and you might need a little time to adjust to this new reality which is understandable. However, make sure that your child does not take this as you not being supportive. Let them know that you need some time to process, but that you are willing to support your child along the way. Open communication is key.

4. Be patient: Nothing can be more important than being patient with your child to ease the coming out experience. Do not ask too many questions because your child might not have all the answers. Let them take their time to discuss things with you, as they feel comfortable.

5. Consider family therapy: If for some reason, you feel like your child’s coming out experience can be enhanced through family therapy then go for it. Make sure your child has everything they can to ease the experience.

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

The Weight of Eating Disorders


American Psychological Association defines eating disorders as “abnormal eating habits that can threaten your health or even your life.” The 3 most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa is an illness in which a person fears weight gain resulting in a restriction of eating to become thinner and thinner. Bulimia nervosa consists of eating an enormous amount of food and then purging almost right after. Binge eating is similar to bulimia nervosa, but without the act of purging.

Although eating disorders only became noteworthy back in the 1980s, the rate of the disorder is on a steady increase all over the world. Eating disorders can affect any race, age, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. As a matter of fact, researchers have noted that there may be a fourth type called “compulsive exercising,” more commonly in men than women, where an afflicted individual may be prone to exercising obsessively. It is crucial to take note of this upward trend, as eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all disorders. One in five afflicted individual’s commits suicide, and every hour approximately one person dies as a result of his or her eating disorder. It is often extremely comorbid as well, specifically with anxiety and depression.

The disorder commonly manifests as an intense fear of gaining weight, resulting in symptoms such as dieting, restricting food intake, pickiness, and preoccupation with body weight and food. Due to a person’s intense fear of gaining weight, a common sign that someone is experiencing an eating disorder is having an excessive amount of measuring tapes and scales around the house, including the bathroom, living room, bedroom, kitchen, and even in their own purses. A research study asked people with an eating disorder to point to the photo that best represented their current body shape (one photo was of their actual current selves and one photo was altered to make them look fatter). They found that people chose the altered fattened photo of themselves, suggesting that a person’s cognitive distortion of their body shape reinforces the classic belief of “I am never thin enough.” Interestingly, although the word anorexia means a loss of interest in food, person’s with this disorder often become more obsessed with food via gourmet cooking, taking photographs of fancy food etc. Their obsession with food acts as a way to regain control and cope with intense emotions.

Eating disorders can be caused by multiple factors including genetic, biochemical, psychological, cultural, and environmental. An example of a prominent cultural factor is the way society has come to view women’s

body as an object of admiration and beauty. In the media there is an overwhelming and consistent depiction of how a woman should look like in order to be considered beautiful. In 2013 a short one-minute video showed an attractive woman with hair and makeup fully done by a professional team getting airbrushed after a photo shoot to the point that she almost looked like two different individuals before and after the photos. The video explicitly revealed the unrealistic and impossible standard regular women strive to reach for. Despite the fact that this clip went viral, the dietary culture remains intact. These societal pressures can lead a young child, who may be going through puberty or getting bullied at school, to develop an eating disorder in order to fit in with their peers and what society portrays as “normal.”

Thinking about environmental factors, it’s important to note that eating disorders do not occur in isolation. According to “Family Systems Theory,” the disorder can be understood by looking at the symptoms embedded within a person’s dysfunctional family structure. Families of children afflicted with eating disorders frequently exhibit the following characteristics: overprotectiveness, a great deal of enmeshment, and lack of conflict resolution. As a result, children do not develop independence or control over their life, leading them to seek control in other areas. The simplest solution is often to control their body shape by controlling what they eat.

The disorder requires meticulous attention to a person’s physical and psychological state. In order to appropriately address the issue of eating disorders, there should be initiatives at both the micro and macro level. Family therapy is a good treatment option because eating disorders affect the whole family, so it’s important to involve everyone’s voices. There should also be more campaigns that work towards redefining the definition of “beauty” to counteract the affects of current media portrayals of beauty.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

Double-Marginalization in the LGBTQ Community

Until quite recently, we have been living in a heteronormative society, in which we take for granted the notion that men like women, and women like men. With the help of the recent LGBTQ movement, that has been raising awareness and ideas about sexual minorities, people these days are certainly becoming more aware of a non-binary world that has so long been disregarded. Indeed, Pride Month was established as a result of the Stonewalling Protest, one of the most famous LGBTQ protests, in the late 20th century.

“LGBTQ” is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual/genders, and Queer. The “LGBTQ community” denotes an inclusive space for sexual minorities, who live in a heteronormative society, to access support and wisdom from others who are in a similar situation. Although the community has been growing exponentially, several researchers have noticed a problem with this community. The community is predominantly Caucasian-dominated and many queer publications are guilty of portraying only white men and women as objects of beauty, while completely neglecting other races in the community. According to a survey by a UK magazine, about 80% of East Asian, South Asian, and African American men have experienced racism in the LGBTQ community. These ethnic minority LGBTQ individuals find themselves in a double minority, in which they are neither fully accepted nor understood by mainly white LGBTQ communities, nor are they accepted by their own ethnic group.

It is an important notion to remember that both ethnic groups and sexual orientations are social identities that many of these members cannot choose to hide from. The double marginalization manifests itself in two ways: either as a rejection or objectification. Many gay men have reported being rejected solely based on their race, as commonly seen on a popular gay dating app “Grindr,” where people explicitly write “no black,” or “no Asians.” Furthermore, Asians have reported being labeled as “passive and submissive,” while African Americans have reported being labeled as “masculine and aggressive.” This indicates that the LGBTQ members of non-white race encounter the exact same bigotry and favoritism of the heteronormative world that they were hoping to avoid by joining the community. This leads ethnic minority LGBTQ individuals to believe that the LGBTQ community may not be as safe and inclusive as it claims to be. Some researchers have noticed that racism and LGBTQ-based discrimination both directly and indirectly increase the risk for suicide, making ethnic minority LGBTQ individuals even more prone to danger.

Evidently, the LGBTQ movement is very new and fresh. However, it is increasingly gaining more support and awareness from the world, evidenced by the most recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States of America and Taiwan. It is time for the community to not only focus on the external factors, but internal factors as well. It certainly still has a long way to go in order to rectify the discriminations of the world, but it is time for the community to reflect upon itself and work towards inclusivity and making every single member of the community feel comfortable and safe. Instead of homogenizing all the individual differences, it is important that LGBTQ communities begin to address the individual needs and concerns of ethnic minorities in the group.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

No Apologies – Why we need to stop Apologizing for Mental Health Experiences

“What words would you use to describe yourself?” This seemingly harmless question always left me drawing the same conclusions about myself: I was shy, quiet, reserved, and introverted. I was the girl on the sidelines, occupying the same seat in the last row, doing everything and anything to ensure that no unnecessary attention was drawn towards me.

When I was younger, I was never bothered by my shyness. I would just tell myself that it just took me longer to warm up to people and to jump into conversations. However, as I entered into adolescence, these definitive aspects of my personality began to warp into something bigger than I wanted to acknowledge.

After experiencing a loss in my early adolescence, I did everything in my power to remain myself. I tried to ignore my sadness and the gnawing feeling that I was different than my peers. This worked for a few years, but eventually the feelings I tried to suppress caught up to me. I was 15 years old when I experienced my first panic attack, which marked the beginning of my continual struggle with anxiety. The shyness I felt in social situations morphed into full-body panic, being called out in class resulted in shortness of breath, and class presentations left my heart racing and my throat closing in on the words I tried to speak.

My situation only worsened as my family failed to understand what I was dealing with, mocking my anxiety, preying on my insecurities. I no longer felt safe voicing my opinions and so I withdrew further into myself.

Living in an extroverted world, where class clowns and social butterflies are looked up to, I felt ostracized by my new anxiety. Stuck inside the confines of my own mind, I believed that I would be forced to resign myself to a life of constant fear and embarrassment, fighting a losing battle with the voices inside my head. However, with medication and therapy, I learned how to effectively deal with my mental health experience. It was not until this year, five years later, that I was finally able to acknowledge my experience as a social anxiety disorder.

I believe much of my shame surrounding this experience was due in part to the sense of illegitimacy I felt. I could not understand why something as trivial as a conversation posed such a challenge for me. I felt as if I had missed some secret lesson that everyone else had been taught, never able to catch up.

As I continue to grow and understand myself, I am now able to acknowledge that my mental health experience is not something I should ever feel shameful towards. My unique history has made me who I am. It may be that I always feel slightly apprehensive when I meet new people, taking longer than others to learn to fully trust a new person in my life, but that is perfectly okay.

The stigma surrounding mental health has yet to be broken. I am now able to understand that I had internalized the societal stigma which proclaims that mental health experiences are illegitimate, treating my suffering as something to be suppressed or ignored. This kind of internalization is dangerous, as it not only reinforces the stigma, but discourages those who are suffering from reaching out for help. I can only hope that as more and more individuals come forward to share their stories, our society will begin to recognize these lived experiences for what they are. My struggle with social anxiety is nothing I should ever apologize for. I will not apologize for the person I have become. Yes, I may still be quiet, shy, and reserved, but I am also courageous, empathetic and stronger than I ever believed I could be. I am done with the shame, and I am done apologizing.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

The First Time I Realized Something was Wrong (PTSD)

downloadI didn’t fully understand everything that went on during my childhood, until I moved out and started college. As a child, I thought that my parent’s yelling, fighting and the physical abuse was how every family was. I remember trying to talk to a counselor in high school about it, but I don’t think they took me seriously. The counselor probably thought that my stories were a bit exaggerated and didn’t want to believe that it could have happened.

It was only when I started college and was away from home for 4 years, that I realized something was wrong. My surroundings seemed too quiet, as there was no longer any fighting in the background. I found I had to sleep with a radio or a fan on to drown out the silence. Most people like silence, but for me the silence would make me have nightmares and they would be the same ones over and over again. I ended up sleeping with some kind of background noise for years afterwards.

After college, I moved back home and got a job in my field of study, which was good. But eventually, I found myself applying for more jobs. I ended up with 5 part time jobs just so I could fill up my time and avoid being at home. I found that things between my parents were very different, as they grew distant from each other. My dad would stay in his room for days at a time and when my parents did speak, it was brief and at times not very pleasant.

My father passed away in 2004 and shortly after I noticed things about myself changing. I was having nightmares again and I was blaming myself for his death. I was feeling like I didn’t help him enough with his Bipolar. It became hard to sleep and I would have flashbacks of certain incidents, which were easily triggered by things in my surrounding, such as seeing certain things on the television. I dealt with all this on my own for years after his death, since I found it difficult to talk to my family.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I stopped having nightmares and stopped sleeping with the radio on. There are still certain scenes in a movie or a television show that I cannot watch because it brings me back to a bad place, but I no longer carry the guilt of my father’s death. I have also since repaired my relationship with my family and we now have a great relationship.

Although I haven’t been officially diagnosed, I’ve been told I live with the symptoms of PTSD and I’m not ashamed. The PTSD is a result of what I’ve seen and heard within my house. Over the years I have developed strategies for how to deal with certain things. I want to bring awareness to mental health issues and I want you to know that it’s okay to talk about your experiences. I found that writing and sharing my stories helps me and it reminds me that I am never alone.

By: Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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LOVING SOMEONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS AND VALENTINE’S DAY

downloadValentine’s Day is here and it’s a day to express love and affection towards family, friends and loved ones. It’s an emotional day for most, but it can be a frustrating day for others, especially for those living with a mental illness.

I remember the first Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend. Even though it was a new relationship and we were just getting to know each other, we treated Valentine’s Day just like any other day. For me it was a day to show affection, but not it wasn’t for him. You see, my boyfriend lives with a mental illness and when he first moved in, 2 months prior, I discovered that he was not on any medication and as a result he couldn’t tell me how he felt. I didn’t completely understand then, but I do now.

He lives with clinical depression and with that comes sleeping all day, not wanting to do anything or go anywhere, and emotions are put on hold (don’t want to laugh and don’t know how or what to feel). He also lives with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which adds anxiety to the depression. Now you add dealing with the fear of going outside and the fear of talking to someone (you don’t want to text, call or email anyone). When you’re in a relationship you may also see paranoia, at least I did. He would ask me questions like “Do you love me?” “Why do you love me?” “Why don’t you find someone else, someone with a stable mind?”

Something else that I noticed, was that he couldn’t be touched when he was upset, anxious or panicky. The best thing I could do in those situations was to just talk to him and provide reassurance. What helped me the most was reading all I could on other people’s experiences of mental illness. I found it helped me to better understand him and his needs.

I’m not afraid to say it was a rough year, but it was worth it. We made it through. For the past 2 years now, he has been going to therapy and taking his medication, and we couldn’t be happier.

If you have a loved one that lives with a mental illness, I have some advice for you:

1. Please be patient. I know it can be frustrating and upsetting, but it will be worth it.

2. Your loved one will need reassurance. Don’t be afraid to tell them you love them even though they may not be able to express the same back to you.

3. Be sure to take time for yourself. What you’re experiencing may drain you mentally.

Overall, just remember that Valentine’s Day might look different for you and your partner, but the important thing is that you’re with your loved one and that you do love them and see them for who they are and not their mental illness. Also remember that they DO love you, even if they don’t always express it.

By: Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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Mental Illness Portrayed in the Media

thumbnail_24715Chances are the majority of knowledge of mental health comes from the media. Researchers have suggested that most portrayals in the media are stereotypical, negative and incorrect. Stigma towards mental health has been in the media as far back as the 1800’s, with a prime example of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” depicting Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which was formerly called split personality disorder or multiple personality disorder. An inaccurate portrayal of people with mental illness has created negative stereotypes in all types of media (internet, television, and print material such as magazines and newspapers).

In most cases, the psycho killers, crazy girlfriends/boyfriends, stalkers and criminals all have some kind of mental illness, according to Hollywood. All too often, this results in a culture of fear and ignorance towards mental illness resulting in stigma. Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that the majority of people living with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, rather than being the perpetrators of the violence. However, popular TV shows like “Criminal Minds” that depict crimes being committed by people with mental illness only help reinforce this stereotype and continues to create a universal fear. Sometimes the stigma attached to mental illness is so strong that people are unwilling to seek help out of fear of what others may think.

The current movie “Split,” which came out in theatres on January 20, 2017, has a lot of controversy within the mental health community. I have read comments on Facebook from people who live with mental illness and still want to watch the movie because it’s just that – a movie. There are others who live with mental illness and are disgusted at how the movie presents DID, formerly known as split or multiple personality disorder, and is also frequently mislabeled as Schizophrenia. My boyfriend and I went to see “Split” and we didn’t find the movie as bad as it was made out to be. I felt that it did portray how someone with DID functions and what can happen. I liked how the psychiatrist in the movie defined DID by explaining how the brain works and how the personalities co-exist. Overall, I thought the movie was well done and that the trailers made it look worse than what it actually was.

It’s important to keep in mind that portrayals of mental illness in the media are only an issue when they falsely portray the illness by using negative stereotypes that affect those living with a mental illness. Here is a partial list of movies that honestly depict mental illness in their true form:

1. Rain Man (1988)-Autism
2.What About Bob (1991)-Anxiety
3. As Good As it Gets (1997)-OCD
4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)-Schizophrenia
5. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)-Bipolar
6. Inside Out (2015)-General mental health
7. Benny & Joon (1993)-Schizophrenia

What can we do to help end this stigma in the media?

1. We can call or write to the publisher or editor of the newspaper, magazine, book, or radio and TV station and help them realize how their publication has affected those people with a mental illness.

2. Start a discussion about that movie, TV show, or article that you read. Explain to people what it’s really like living with a particular mental illness and highlight the discrepancies found in the media.

3. KEEP TALKING & KEEP LISTENING

By: Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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Having a Loved One with Depression/Anxiety and Attending Family Gatherings

 

downloadWhen thinking about the holidays, it’s easy to envision a scenario like this: people getting ready for a family gathering, preparing the gifts, dressing the kids, getting everyone in the car, knocking on a door, having Grandma answer it and give everyone a hug and kiss, and having everyone go inside to see all the other family members to celebrate the holiday. This picture perfect scenario is not a reality for many people, particularly for those with anxiety and/or depression.

My father lived with manic depression and anxiety. Family gatherings were not his favourite. When we would go to family gatherings, there were a lot of relatives and only a few of them knew about my father’s manic depression. Back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, not a lot was known about mental health, so there was a lack of understanding. My father would become anxious about going to these gatherings and we never knew what he would do or say, or if anyone would comment on his behaviour. Sometimes my family members would say something that would end up hurting my father’s feelings and we would leave the family gathering early. They would bring something up from the past and it would grow into a huge ball of anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment, and humility. After awhile, we stopped going to family gatherings all together, as there would always be someone who didn’t want my father there because of something that had happened in the past.

Family gatherings are meant to be fun, memorable, and an opportunity to get closer to one another. When a loved one lives with anxiety and/or depression, it can become a very stressful event. Things are said and done that cause anxiety and eventually the feeling of being trapped occurs, which can result in a panic attack.

When a loved one has anxiety and/or depression, the anticipation of the event can sometimes be worse than actually attending the event. Your loved one may ruminate about all of the possible outcomes and consequences days, even weeks, before the event. Sometimes the preparation of the event can be stressful as well. If it’s Christmas, gifts have to be ready, if you have pets, they have to be taken care of before leaving, if there are children, they have to get ready. All this preparation has to be done within a certain timeframe and can cause the anxiety to heighten.

You may not always be able to control your relative’s actions towards your loved one during a family gathering, but you can help reduce the anxiety that they may feel by:

1. Finding an ally. If there is a relative who is positive and comforting, go with your loved one and begin a conversation.
2. Set limits. You cannot control what someone else says or does, but you can help your loved one come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to speak up for oneself and to know when it’s time to walk away.
3. Bring a distraction. At times your loved one may start to feel overwhelmed. You can help by bringing some comforting items that they enjoy in order act as a distraction from all the chaos, such as an IPod, a book, or board games.
4. Focus on the good.  During the anxiety-provoking situation, you can help your loved one by getting them to focus on the good. There is always something positive that can be found that can be a calming distraction. You can suggest things like talking to a relative who has a positive, understanding energy, reading stories to the children, or assisting with the meal. Doing something positive will calm your mind and reduce the anxiety/depression.

Understanding what is happening and having a plan to make it through a family gathering can increase your loved one’s sense of control and ultimately decrease their anxiety.

By: Anita Levesque
Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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What is High-Functioning Depression?

hidden-depression-FIHow well do you know your friends, co-workers or even family? It may seem that you know a lot about them, but they may be hiding a part of themselves from you. What you may see on the surface is a happy marriage, a great job, and lots of friends. But what you won’t see is the unhappiness, lack of energy, and constant self-doubt, which are all symptoms of high-functioning depression.

Depression can be devastating and debilitating for anyone. It affects nearly 350 million people worldwide, and you probably know someone who lives with depression. People tend to be more familiar with major depressive disorder (MDD), as the symptoms are more visible. Symptoms of MDD can be physical and mental, such as exhaustion, irritability, appetite changes, loss of interest or motivation, and a sense of overwhelming hopelessness, just to name a few. These symptoms are often present in high-functioning depression as well, but to a lesser degree. It can be hard for someone with high-functioning depression to identify their symptoms as depression because they often mask their symptoms and so it doesn’t match the stereotypical picture of depression. Some signs to look for include: being an overachiever, constant self-criticism, feeling like you’re wasting time, and substance abuse.

The exact cause of high-functioning depression isn’t known. However, as with MDD, it may involve more than one cause, such as biological differences, brain chemistry, inherited traits and life events. One of the most difficult aspects of high-functioning depression is people’s ability to blend into society and the lack of understanding that goes with it. Examples of celebrities with high-functioning depression include Kristen Bell, Dwayne Johnston, Lady Gaga, and J.K. Rowling.

Here are a few additional things to know:
1. People cannot understand the complexity of the symptoms unless they’ve lived through it
2. Everyday activities feel impossible
3. Illness doesn’t have to be seen to be real
4. Checking in on the person is appreciated
5. It goes deeper than life’s circumstances
6. Outside appearances don’t always match what is going on in the inside
7. The tiniest gesture can go a long way
8. Those with high-functioning depression are more likely to commit suicide than those whose depression is more visible
9. Treatment does work and varies for everyone

By: Anita Levesque
Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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