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Mandatory screenings give new hope to beating mental illness stigma

On the nightly news this week, there was an announcement that seemed small but was a huge victory for those suffering from depression. This is the announcement of mandatory depression screening in adults. These screenings will be covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act. While the focus is going to primarily be mothers, specifically new mothers, it is a small step in the right direction in acknowledging depression as a country-wide issue.

In passing, the main issues that lie within recognition of depression are the initial negative emotions we mistake as weakness, or wrongness in ourselves, not our condition. Embarrassment, fear, guilt, shame or the simple, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ block. I’ll shrug it away. There’s nothing wrong even though you can’t remember what normal feels like. Then, there’s the denial.

As adults and young adults, we are held to a different standard. This only changes with age. The barriers are still the same. A parent doesn’t want to fail their kids, leading to unreported cases and people who are struggling to put their feet on the floor in the morning. Anybody who has some responsibility to admit weakness is a defeat.

While being mostly portrayed in the media as high school age, angst-ridden teenagers, those who suffer from depression come from all walks of life, at any age and are anything anyone can ever be. And while we forget that, many people are left to fall back between the cracks yet again. There are not as many fail-safe options in the ‘adult’ world. It is busier to an extent, and from this standpoint, it seems much more cold and impersonal. From a very young age we learn the answer to ‘how are you?’ as ‘good’ regardless of the circumstances. We don’t know our neighbors anymore, let alone check on them to make sure that they aren’t taking life too harshly. In a world so connected, it’s so easy to be alone.

Recognition for depression and its realities have come a long way. However, it is not quite there yet. There are still too many ways to fool people. Again, that lies within society and our social norms we have constructed. Maybe we’ve also learned to fool ourselves. We forget to take an inventory of our emotions and don’t realize until it’s too late. We just carry everything along. Or maybe we’re simply stuck with nowhere to go or turn. And the admission of helplessness does not match our determined personality. Silently screaming for help, if only someone asked more than ‘do you want to hurt yourself?’

While one could argue the benefits of multitude therapy approaches found to help those with depression, there is one component that is necessary to them all: acceptance. One needs to accept there is a problem before they can work to fix it. With these mandatory screenings, those in denial may have a chance to look at their diagnosis in a light that could seem more legitimate to those in the number-crunching medical fields.

There have been many movements in the past years to change the face of depression, and I believe that it is finally changing for the better. These screenings will be beneficial to care providers and the individuals struggling with the denial that often accompanies depression. This may provide the validation someone needs to finally admit they need the help they deserve. Hopefully with the arrival of these mandatory tests, the stigma will be lessened, and depression treated as any other disease is, with validity and compassion needed to create a safe, efficient healing environment.

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