Queen’s faces of mental illness: Destigmatizing depression

As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Lifestyle is featuring personal stories from Queen’s students each day from Oct. 6-10. We’ll be continuing the initiative throughout the year with monthly stories. If you’re interested in submitting a story, please email journal_lifestyle@ams.queensu.ca.

No one expects to be diagnosed with a mental illness. At least, I didn’t.

In what society has overwhelmingly claimed to be the best four years of your life, my last two years at university have been a roller coaster ride of emotional highs and lows. It wasn’t my choice to be diagnosed with depression — but it’s something I have to learn to live with day by day.

It took me a long time to learn that the emotions I was feeling were a part of something bigger that I didn't understand at the time. In the stages prior to my diagnosis, I deemed myself "unfit" to have such an illness. After all, there were so many people in this world who had it far worse than I did.

I had more privileges in this world than I could count. I thought there was no reason for me to be crying hysterically over a weak club interview. This flawed way of thinking, I later learned, was one of the many misconceptions people associated with depression. While others in the world may have been worse off than me, it most certainly did not desensitize how I felt.

My mental illness is something that has been difficult for me to open up about. So when it came to telling my parents about why I had been acting the way I was, the stigma just increased.

They told me to just deal with it and think about the opportunities that had been given to me. After all, I had it much better than so many others.

In these situations, it has been important to realize that no matter how well-meaning my parents meant to be, they simply didn’t understand the ways in which depression had consumed me.

To make matters worse, I had been put on a prescription of low dose Citalopram by my doctor — a decision my parents weren’t comfortable with, nor would they support. After taking the medication for a few months, I decided it was helping me more than I had ever expected it to.

Still, my bad days outnumbered my good ones. My parents didn’t want me to be continually taking something they deemed would be "addictive." I told them it could never be the case with me — did they not understand my own capabilities as their daughter? They felt that anything that altered your brain to make you feel good must have been addictive.

For my parents and I, every day is still a learning process. Stigmas and misconceptions I had once believed to be true are now ways of thinking that I encourage my friends and family to stray away from.

I can’t explain how my mental illness began or why I sometimes act the way I do.

But what I wish had been explained to me much earlier in my life is that mental illness stigma is wrong. It needs to be combated, and I hope to do my part.

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