Once a year or so I’m tempted to shave my head like I’m going through chemo to make my depression visible to others. I’m thinking if I pulled a Sinead O’Connor, people would take the illness seriously.
I saw a commercial the other day for some leukemia association, and I was jealous.
I know that’s not the response the advertising team was looking for. But, as someone who is now responsible for fundraising for a foundation for treatment-resistant depression and chronic mood disorders, I thought about how much easier my job would be if the people for whom I’m raising the money actually looked sick.
I have no problem getting dough for Catholic Relief Service’s Operation Rice Bowl that feeds poor kids in Africa. The paper carton which you load with dollars and cents dons the photo of a beautiful African child with the message: “$1 a day for 40 days of Lent means one month of food for a family, two years of seed for a farmer, and three months of clean water for four families.” For other relief projects, you see the folks with bony arms and legs, extended stomachs, and white, crooked teeth that contrast their dark skin. Who wouldn’t fork over cash to them?
However, asking for dough for depression is a whole other story. I may as well be asking to save the mosquitos. At some level, I believe stigma exists in each and every one of us. We think the person who can’t get upright in the morning is too lazy, stupid, or addicted. Their condition is their fault. If it’s your sister who can’t keep a job because of her mood disorder, she isn’t trying hard enough and she won’t do yoga. If it’s your neighbor who has been depressed her whole life, she wants to be depressed on some level: she is unwilling to move beyond her baggage and do the hard work of recovery. Depression is a white and blue-collar disease that is invisible to the public, and therefore it’s not real. Everyone who suffers from it has contracted it by their lack of discipline and good sense, their negativity and stubbornness.