Fourth quarter blog post

Here is my fourth quarter blog post

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stigma: An American Trend For Over Two Centuries

This past week I have continued researching depression in young people in great depth for my Junior Theme. One very interesting aspect of this topic that I researched just this weekend was the history of depression, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Before beginning my research, I believed that my "why question" (Why are so many young people with depression not seeking treatment?) would be even more relevant in the past than it is today (and it is extremely relevant today, with over half of young people with depression not getting treatment), and after some research it appears that this was correct. According to Dr. Ellen Holtzman, in the late-19th century, "Patients at public [mental] hospitals were usually involuntarily committed, and they typically displayed...suicidal behavior before their hospitalization". The fact that patients were "usually involuntarily committed" means that typically people with mental disorders like depression were not seeking treatment at this time in history, and "suicidal behavior" is a tragic symptom of untreated depression, meaning that many people specifically suffering with depression were going untreated until their illness advanced to this point. A probable cause to people not seeking treatment for their depression in the past was how depression was viewed at that time, and some of this seems to have carried over into American society today. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a horrible stigma against depression. For example, in the beginning of the Enlightenment period "it was thought that depression was an inherited, unchangeable weakness of temperament, which lead to the common thought that affected people should be shunned or locked up". This attitude toward depression in the past matches up perfectly with the definition of stigma: "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person". In this case, the "mark of disgrace" was associated with depression, and specifically was that people suffering with this disorder had a "weakness". Certainly this attitude towards depression barred many people from seeking treatment, as nobody wants to be viewed as having a "weakness" and be "shunned" by society because of a medical condition they are suffering from.

Although the attitude towards depression in our society today may not be as extreme as it was three hundred years ago, some of it still remains and affects people suffering with depression. Right now I am reading an autobiography called Monochrome Days about a woman named Cait Irwin who suffered with depression when she was a teenager. When she was suffering with this disorder, she felt that it was a flaw to her character, or a "weakness of temperament". For example, she compared herself to her brother, stating that: "there was no possible way he would ever let a dark cloud settle upon his brain" (Irwin 5). The fact that "his" is italicized and that she says that there was "no possible way" he could develop depression both show that she believed her depression was her fault, a weakness of hers, even though depression can happen to anyone. This is highly reflective of the stigma against depression that existed over two-hundred years ago and appears to still exist today that keeps young people like Irwin from seeking treatment.

This made me wonder, why does stigma still exist in American society today after all of this time? I believe it is because our society can never seem to accept people who do not fit into the majority, who are "different", even when it comes to health issues. This is similar with racism, which has existed in American society since its birth, as well as many other forms of discrimination and hatred that have done nothing but hurt the people that they have targeted. 

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