Stigma…simply writing the word and reflecting on it brings many other descriptive words to mind: isolation, discrimination, shame, fear, to name just a few. It silences people during times when they need the most care, the most love, and treatment for their health. In relationship to suicide, it is life threatening.
Suicides are happening across the world every 40 seconds and many individuals contemplating suicide experience anxiety, depression and hopelessness according to the World Health Organization’s report Preventing suicide: A global imperative. The stigma that surrounds mental illness, coupled with symptoms of hopelessness, only isolate people more. Individuals with suicidal ideation often see no other way out of their pain.
Most illnesses that affect the body are treated with care and compassion. And yet, when illness affects our brain, we cannot talk about it. Individuals are left with a sense of shame or guilt, and led to believe there is something wrong with them for not being able to simply “feel better.”
Depression is treatable. By destigmatizing mental illness, we encourage individuals to receive the necessary support and treatment, thus saving lives. As communities we can offer compassion, discussion, education, and research on best treatment practices. Prevention programs may be offered, follow-up care provided, and families who have lost loved ones by suicide may be given a safe outlet to share their grief.
One way to end stigma is by rebranding the disease. By only displaying negative images of a person in the midst of a depressive state, society does not get to see the success of treatment and recovery. Positive and hopeful images will help people talk openly, build awareness, and break down the stigma barrier. Breast cancer eradicated stigma by primarily doing three things: focusing on the biology of a woman’s body, involving celebrities and leaders, and using a universal symbol for the disease.
If people’s perception of depression and mental illness may be changed to reflect a positive and hopeful outlook, we will help millions of people, prevent suicide, and promote living a life of positive mental health and well-being.
Kathryn Goetzke is the entrepreneur and innovator behind Mood-lites™. The product line was made available nationwide at Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and was associated with the first successful cause marketing campaign for depression. She runs a consulting business and is the CEO of The Mood Factory, which just launched a new sensory line of products based on how smells impact moods. Kathryn was a featured presenter at Scent World, 2014 and her work has been showcased in Entrepreneur Magazine, Home, Chicago Tribune, BBC, CBS Chicago, InStyle, and more.
In addition, Goetzke is the founder of iFred (the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression), dedicated to encouraging research on depression and reducing the stigma associated with the disease. The organization advocates to rebrand depression by utilizing the sunflower and color yellow as a positive universal symbol for depression; educating the public on brain biology; and inviting other organizations around the world to join in their efforts by planting sunflowers. Hopelessness is the number one predictor[i] to suicide, so iFred’s Schools for Hope program teaches kids about hope; this is based on research that hope is a teachable skill that can prevent suicide and promotes the importance of mental health.
Kathryn serves on the Global Mental Health Advisory Board, and has presented on the need to rebrand depression around the world for NGOs and nonprofits. She recently participated for the third time in the World Health Organization’s invitation-only event, working on implementation of the Global Mental Health Action Plan adopted by the UN’s 66th World Health Assembly.
Kathryn is also on the Steering Committee of FundamentalSDG, a group of diverse experts in the field of global mental health. When FundamentalSDG noticed that mental health was not a part of the Post Millennium Development Goals they called for the United Nations to take action and make mental health a post-2015 sustainable development target. #FundamentalSDG invites you to add your name or organization’s logo to the site, tweet your support, and write to the United Nations on the provided template so leaders include mental health in the Post Millennium Development Goals.
[i] Sher, L., Preventing Suicide, QJM (2004) 97 (10): 677-680