I wrote this piece for Everyday Feminism. Please note that it’s based on my own experience and I include a section about how it doesn’t apply to everyone, so please read all the way through before commenting.
When I was first diagnosed with depression as a nineteen-year-old college freshman, I felt an emotion you might not associate with getting diagnosed with a mental illness: relief.
I was relieved that it was actually a real illness and not just a personal fault. I was relieved that there was treatment available for something I thought was just my burden to carry for life. I was relieved to have the language for the background noise of hopelessness, sadness, and pessimism that I had experienced for as long as I could remember.
Not everyone agreed.
Concerned loved ones questioned my decision to accept the diagnosis and use it as a personal identifier when relevant. They worried that thinking of myself as a person who has depression would prevent me from taking responsibility for recovery, or that telling others about it would cause them to judge me and abandon me.
Many people wondered why I needed to concern myself with labels at all. Couldn’t I just go to therapy, take my medication, and leave the technical words out of it?
Actually, I don’t think I could.
Identifying with the label “depression” has helped me in a number of ways, both with recovery and with coping with the symptoms that I still have.
1. Finding Helpful Information About Mental Illness
The most basic way that mental illness labels have helped me is that they’re a great way to find information about mental illness.
Sounds obvious, right?
But many people who disparage labels don’t realize that you’ll probably find a lot more useful stuff if you Google “how to cope with depression” than “how to stop feeling sad” or “what to do when you feel numb.”
When I was first learning about mental health – both in general and mine specifically – I looked up a lot of things online and read a lot of books.
My searches led me to life-changing perspectives like Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon, which helped me understand different ways in which depression can manifest itself, and Peter D. Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, which helped me feel much less ashamed about needing to take medication.
These books have “depression” and “antidepressants” in their subtitles, and I wouldn’t have found them without knowing what to look for.
Unlike some of the people in our lives, these websites won’t tell you that “it’s all in your head” or “other people have it worse.” They present scientific information in a way that’s easy to understand and relate to.
But in order to end up on one of these pages, you generally need to have a diagnosis in mind.
Even if you’ve already been diagnosed and started treatment, knowing your diagnosis can help you find information that’ll help your treatment.
For instance, if you’re looking up information about borderline personality disorder, you might learn that dialectical behavior therapy is one of the best treatments for it. This can help you find therapists who specialize in DBT, join groups that use it, and learn some techniques on your own.
Read the rest here.