Here is the full transcript of Ali Schulte’s TEDx Talk: The Real Me: The Stigma Surrounding Depression at TEDxYouth@AnnArbor conference.
I recently had to write a few short essays about myself, for my college counseling office. I am a strong writer, and I am passionate about my future as a college student.
But, I was at a loss. I was at a loss, sitting in front of my computer trying to come up with what to write, because I lead two lives. There’s the life my friends and family would tell you about; I’m a dedicated student, a dancer, the captain of the Ethics Bowl team, and socially involved with my peers.
But there’s also the life I don’t talk about. In this life, I’m still all of those things, but I’m also greatly influenced by depression.
The assignment was to write about “the real me,” but I sat there in front of my computer, wondering if I could write about the real me, and not have my college recommendations suffer. I wondered if my college counselors would even want to read about the real me, or if they just wanted the story my friends and family know I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety about a year and a half ago, and I struggled with it for roughly a year before diagnosis. This is not a sad story: this is a success story. I still suffer, and I still struggle to get up every morning.
I still second-guess all of my relationships, and I still have trouble concentrating, and I still don’t feel safe from myself, but this is a success story, because I lived. I’ve had two major suicidal episodes in my lifetime, and I’ve survived both. 15 percent of people diagnosed with depression will die by suicide, making the estimated annual suicide count slightly under one million deaths, and that’s just per year. That’s eight times more than the number of deaths from the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Depression is ongoing; there’s no vaccine, there’s no cure.
I was one of the lucky ones, because I spoke out and I got help. But because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, many do not. In the United States, 17 percent of the adult population will suffer from depression during their lifetime. This is big. One out of every five of your friends and family members will suffer from depression.
You might not know about it, but it’s happening. This is so real, and it’s everywhere around us. We need to be conscious of it. We need to be aware. We need to help these people that are suffering.
The stigma that depression is a sign of a bad attitude, or a sign of weakness, is real. Would you rather tell your partner, your friend, your parent, your child, that you broke your arm? Or that you have depression? On top of that, only 14 percent of countries have a suicide prevention plan, despite the fact that depression is a proven epidemic.
We, as a global community, need to address that we have a problem, if we want to find a solution. I don’t have the solution to breaking down the stigma, but I do need to stress how important it is not to give up, on people struggling with depression. The illness holds a veil over your eyes, so that you constantly feel like you’re on the verge of being abandoned.
Some people try to cut negativity out of their lives, but this only enforces the idea that the person struggling with depression is unwanted. A common misconception is that depression is sadness. Sadness is a normal, temporary response we feel when something has gone wrong in our lives. Depression is like a parasite: It slithers into your body, at no fault of your own. It takes up residence in your mind, and stays for however long it likes, making you feel powerless.
Depression is feeling sad when everything in your life is going right. The depression won’t go away, but it can be shrunk. It can be shrunk back down to the size of sadness. But to do this, it needs to be recognized. The symptoms manifest in teens very differently than in adults.
The ones that come to mind for most people are persistent sadness, insomnia, and loss of interest in activities. But for teens, the common symptoms are irritability, unexplained aches and pains, and extreme sensitivity to criticism. We need to be conscious of the symptoms, so we can help people in our lives when we recognize them.
If you think that you may have depression, talk to your primary care doctor. They’ll give you a quick 10-question survey to evaluate the severity of your symptoms and refer you to some therapists in your community.
That’s it. It’s a 10-minute conversation that could save your life. If you think that somebody you know is struggling from depression, engage with them; enforcing the idea, and the notion that they have their positive impact on your day-to-day life, and make sure that they recognize that. Validate their feelings, invite them on outings, even as simple as going on a walk, and keep trying if he or she declines. Remind them that they have more things to do in their lifetime, and encourage them to seek help.
Most of all, and that is what helped me the most, enforce the idea that depression is not their destiny. To remember this, I came up with this handy acronym called “DEVOTE“.
D : Remind them that this isn’t their destiny.
E : Engage with them.
V : Validate their feelings.