By JADE GRIFFIN
A common obstacle for those dealing with depression and mental health disorders is overcoming the stigma surrounding it, making the road to recovery more challenging. “I saw a therapist when I was a senior in high school, but after a few months of therapy, I noticed I couldn’t talk to my friends about it without being treated like my mental health issues weren’t valid,” explains Katrina Saeed, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’20, with regards to her own experience battling the stigma surrounding mental health.
Mental health stigma stems from many aspects. A lot of it is cultural, as societies tend to marginalize people who are different or stray from the societal norms. With already existing mental health insecurities, it becomes very difficult for people to face a further challenge of being accepted and understood by their peers. This can also lead to the more serious concerns of denying treatment.
Dr. Natasha Black, Licensed Psychologist at Fordham University Counseling & Psychological Services (CPS), offered her own interpretation for mental health stigma. “My guess is part of it has to do with the erroneous association with mental health problems as conveying some sort of weakness or ‘moral failing.’ When someone’s symptom presentation doesn’t directly signify a specific physical health problem, people can feel very uncomfortable with that. I think we find that there is a general fear of thinking you are somehow violating a cultural norm and it’s really hard to fight that.”
Stigma is especially prevalent among young adults in social environments, like high school or college. Developmentally, college is an age of individuation and can be an unsettling transition. Furthermore, students often find themselves trying to adhere to a certain perceived lifestyle in college, like having a friend group or certain social life, which can be very stressful and troubling.
In dealing with depression and the stigma surrounding it, Dr. Black offers some recommendations. “At a basic level, I think one of the most important things for people struggling with depression is to find support,” Dr. Black explained. Part of what makes depression difficult is that people don’t have sufficient support already or they experience difficulty in accessing the support that already exist. Dr. Black suggests, “such support can consist of friends, family and mental health professionals. But also engaging in activities can be helpful, like exercise or even going out to take a walk. I think it is important to bear in mind that it is not a sign of weakness, but rather a strength, to seek out the support that you need.”
Breathing practices have also proved incredibly useful in dealing with difficult emotions and situations, all possibly leading to mental health disorders. A negative outlook on life, and thus many angry or sad feelings, is often an effect of such disorders. “Breathing techniques, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Three Minute Breathing Space, can be helpful in cultivating awareness of how you’re feeling,” notes Dr. Black. “When you’re aware of how you’re feeling in the moment, it allows you to let those feelings pass in a certain way. If you allow yourself to feel things as they are happening, you recognize that they are just feelings and also that they do pass. This can be a very powerful way to deal with difficulties like depression and anxiety.”
Breathing techniques prove incredibly useful, but also doing things that are relaxing can help with difficult emotions and feelings. Relaxing endeavors depend on the person and can include a wide range of things like getting a massage or pedicure, journaling and aromatherapy. Nonetheless, it’s important to make time each day to perform something relaxing; the difference can be pleasantly surprising.
Finally, Dr. Black suggests for anyone struggling emotionally that, “It’s okay to reach out; that’s what CPS is here for. We encourage students to seek out the many supports offered, either on or off campus.” More specifically, she suggests to students, “If you do know somebody who is struggling, it’s important to be of support to that person because it’s not easy when one is struggling with depression to actively find support on their own.”
Having people in your life who you love and can connect with is fundamental for any human being. Thus, having a stable support system is crucial when dealing with depression.
Katrina sought, and found useful, the resources offered by CPS. “After reaching out to CPS, I knew my struggles with mental health were not all in my head. I saw Dr. Zhuoying Zhu and she helped me understand that there were issues present that I needed to unpack and understand better.”