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Washington, DC — Frustrated and concerned by popular misconceptions that trivialize depression as “just the blues” or dismiss it entirely as an “imaginary disease,” seven prominent physician, patient and civic nonprofit organizations have joined together to launch a public education campaign to tell Americans the truth about depression. The Depression Is Real Coalition seeks to educate Americans that depression is a serious, debilitating disease that can be fatal if left untreated and to provide hope for recovery to the nearly 19 million Americans who suffer from depression each year.
The Depression Is Real public education campaign is sponsored by The American Psychiatric Foundation (a philanthropic and educational subsidiary of the American Psychiatric Association), the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Medical Association, the National Mental Health Association and the National Urban League and is made possible through the support of Wyeth.
“Our research shows that many Americans don’t realize that depression is a biologically-based disease – in fact, a third of all Americans believe that mental illnesses like depression are caused by emotional or personal weaknesses, and almost that number think they are caused by old age alone,” said Altha J. Stewart, MD, President of the American Psychiatric Foundation. “We believe we have a responsibility to tell the public the truth about depression – one based on scientific evidence and clinical research, not made-up ‘facts’ or wishful thinking.”
The Depression is Real Coalition believes that those in the popular culture who label depression a “myth” and deny that medical or other treatments are necessary for recovery do real harm to depression sufferers. Indisputable scientific evidence shows depression to be a biologically-based disease that destroys the connections between brain cells and can affect every aspect of a person’s health. Science and medical research have also proven that people can and do recover from depression through appropriate treatment.
“Trivializing depression as a passing mood or, worse, an imaginary illness can discourage those who need treatment from seeking help,” said Sue Bergeson, President of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. “That’s not just counterproductive it’s downright dangerous because depression is the principal cause of suicide worldwide, killing more people than homicides and terrorism combined,” she said. “This campaign is critical because more education and awareness can help deter needless deaths and the years of suffering that precedes them,” she added.
The Depression Is Real campaign consists of television, radio and print public service announcements (PSAs), print and radio advertisements, a Web site (www.DepressionIsReal.org), and other educational activities. The print and radio ads are science-based and feature Dr. Paul Greengard, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine and an expert in brain function and the mechanisms of depression. Starting Friday, print ads will run in public policy publications inside-the-Beltway and in key national dailies including USA Today and The New York Times, as well as in Black Enterprise and Hispanic Business magazines. Radio ads will also air inside-the-Beltway. The PSAs, produced in English and Spanish, will be distributed nationwide beginning in October.
The Coalition hopes that its public education campaign will help alleviate stigma by increasing awareness of depression, its causes and the wide range of available treatments.
“If you fear losing your job or reputation because of depression, you’ll be less likely to seek out treatment that can help you get better,” said Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness. “NAMI joined this effort to educate the American people that depression is not shameful, it’s not the fault of the person who is depressed, and most important of all – there is hope for recovery because effective treatments exist.”
The Depression Is Real Coalition is particularly concerned that depression is not widely recognized or taken seriously enough in the African-American and Latino communities, which are already underserved in many areas of health care.
“African Americans are disproportionately underserved in health care, and one reason why they suffer needlessly from depression is because only 53 percent of them have adequate health insurance, compared to whites,” said Sandra Goodridge, Director of Health and Quality of Life for the National Urban League. “We must eliminate this disparity while helping African Americans overcome the social stigma that prevents them from seeking treatment, such as fear of being viewed as insane or spiritually flawed.”
“Educating the African American community that depression is a medical illness is critical because 63 percent of our community believe that depression is a personal weakness, while only 31 percent believe it is a health problem,” said Rahn Bailey, MD, Chair of the Psychiatry Section of the National Medical Association. “Trivializing depression can have fatal consequences and exacerbate life-threatening diseases like heart disease and diabetes, which are especially prevalent in the African American community.”
Barriers also exist in the Latino community that prevent people from seeking treatment for mental illnesses like depression. “An expectation of self-reliance is deeply embedded in Latino culture, reducing our community’s willingness to seek help for mental illnesses like depression,” said Brent A. Wilkes, National Executive Director, The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “There is also an enormous stigma associated with going to a psychiatrist or psychologist in the Latino community. We hope that in educating the Latino community that depression is an illness just like any other will increase their willingness to seek treatment for depression by reducing the stigma. And the value of that just cannot be overstated.”
Members of the Coalition also cited the lack of health care reimbursement parity for mental health treatments as another way that society has trivialized mental illness, including depression. “Depression is a real, biological disease – and recovery is difficult if not impossible without the means to pay for proper treatment,” said David Shern, Ph.D., President, National Mental Health Association. “Mental disorders like depression require the same insurance coverage as other physical illnesses – because to provide otherwise is to trivialize diseases of the brain,” he added.
For more information about depression and the coalition members, and to see elements of the Depression Is Real public education campaign, visit www.DepressionIsReal.org.