Updated: Feb 15
I have often witnessed people talking about their physical health concerns in detail with trusted others, and their peers / friends respond with empathy and understanding, and the conversation about these concerns flows with ease.
But when people share their experiences of mental health concerns (or maybe, just exhibit signs of them), the reactions are mixed: Some are empathic and caring, but some may not acknowledge the severity of mental health conditions, so the appearance of someone who is anxious or melancholy is someone who “hasn’t got a grip.” Sometimes, there is a stilted awkwardness which pervade the atmosphere, as the person you are sharing this experience with may not know how to react.
Some may try and 'correct' the thoughts which lead to anxiety and depression, often with the helpful intention of 'fixing' the person. This may manifest in advice, telling you "don't think like that", or "you have to snap out of it", or "you're worrying over nothing". But this can further alienate the person, because the advice doesn't come from an emphatic place, and the lack of validation for those thoughts and feelings may encourage us to ignore them rather than recognise and respond to them, and this can compound the issue.
Misunderstanding and stigma about mental health conditions is a huge problem, as depression and anxiety are perceived as symptoms of weakness, or ‘faulty’ thinking, rather than an emotional blockage which needs to be explored.
There is more to the recovery from depression than altering someone's thought patterns. Depression and anxiety are experiential, and they may signal the fact that some of your experiences have been suppressed, as you haven’t had the space to process them, or they may signal that you’re living a life that doesn't fit with your true values.
Recovery from depression and anxiety can require a lot of exploration; and an empathic counsellor who will listen to experiences without judgment can help with this process. Through greater self-awareness, comes a discovery of your own power, followed by positive change.
Here is a great article exploring the textures of stigma, and how this can exacerbate anxiety and depression: