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Why the Stigma that Surrounds Depression? Is it Poor Marketing?

In the United States, 43% of the public believes that depression is a sign of weakness or a deficit of character. Forty-nine percent (49%) of the population of the United States claims to have struggled with one or more mental illness in their lives. Over six percent (6.7%) claim to struggle with ongoing depression. If this […]

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In the United States, 43% of the public believes that depression is a sign of weakness or a deficit of character. Forty-nine percent (49%) of the population of the United States claims to have struggled with one or more mental illness in their lives. Over six percent (6.7%) claim to struggle with ongoing depression. If this were any other disease these numbers would signify an epidemic. To make matters worse the stigma of weakness likely results in the data being understated. I would submit these numbers, due to the pandemic, will increase dramatically by year’s end – yet mental illness research funding is woefully low.

Why is this so? I believe it is a result of a lack of, and poor marketing. Let’s start with established medical charities. The following information is found on the Forbes list of the top 100 private donation charities in the United States,

Cancer – 4 charities raised $2B – 26,400,000 Americans stricken.

Children’s Hospitals – 2 charities raised $2B

Heart Disease – 2 charities raised $1B – 29,700,000 Americans stricken.

Hospital Foundations – 4 charities raised $1.5B.                  

Alzheimer’s – 1 charity raised $308M – 5,760,000 Americans sticken.

Kidney Disease – 1 charity raised $301M – 46,200,000 Americans stricken.

Diabetes – 1 charity raised $221M – 26,400,000 Americans stricken.

Depression – 0 charities raised $0 – 22,110,000 Americans stricken.

As you can see, apart from depression, the other causes are well funded and you’ve likely been exposed to marketing, advertising, and thought leadership for these charities. Telethons, fundraising campaigns, social media, and television ads are commonplace for biological disease charities. Not so for mental illness. Due to the nature of depression being the “invisible disease” and the reticence of those struggling to admit to it, mental health charities remain underfunded and operate at the grassroots level. The exceptions are, in the US, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which ironically, receives the majority of funding (75%) from the pharmaceutical industry and, in Canada, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) funded primarily by the government (67%) and some private donations (33%).

There is one example of great marketing for a mental illness charity. One of the most successful fundraisers is held in Canada. Bell Let’s Talk is a fundraiser held for 24 hours towards the end of January. For the last 10 years, Bell Media, Canada’s largest multi-platform media company has donated $.05 for every social media and cellular phone call interaction on all the social media platforms it supports. The results over 10 years,

  • Total Social Media and Interactions -1,168,302,700
  • Funds Raised – $ 108,415,135
  • Organizations Supported – over 1,000
  • Canadians now able to access mental health services – 3,806,409
  • Funding for Children and Youth Programs – $ 17,500,000
  • Funding for Indigenous Communities – $ 2,200,000
  • Funding for Military Family Support – $ 1,820,000

These results are from a country of 37.59 million people, with a sponsor that owns just over 21% market share. Can you imagine what the results would be if a similar funding initiative were to be held in the United States? Given the typical 10x factor when comparing Canada and the US the potential is incredible and would have a significant influence on mental illness research, awareness, and treatment.

In most cases, depression eventually manifests into biological diseases, and vice versa. Case in point – 18% of those stricken with diabetes also struggle with depression. Depression can be directly attributed to all the diseases listed above, and many more.

If you can’t feel it, touch it, and see it, as a culture we are disinterested. This is the case with depression and thus, makes marketing a challenge.

If you had a family member visiting you that told you they had been diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, would you ever think to say, “just shake it off and get over it?” Would you tell them “it’s all in your head”, and “if you’d just stop thinking about it you’ll be fine”? Of course not. Then why would we consider acting this way with a friend or loved one who tells us they’re struggling with depression? This attitude is a result of a lack of education, awareness, and empathy. Thankfully, there are millions of cancer survivors to tell their stories. Sadly, this is not the case with sufferers of depression.

To support better marketing there needs to be a focus on the truth about depression, thus removing the stigma.

Why the Stigma?

Depression has non-physical attributes.

  • Sufferers are assumed to be faking it, are lazy, aloof, and uninterested.
  • The Truth? Depression is a disease, no different than ailments that exhibit physical attributes.
  • The more that feelings are discounted the tougher it becomes; empathy is key.

Characterizations made, and the influence of mass media.

  • Television shows, news stories, music, and movies portray a negative picture of depression, resulting in discrimination, avoidance, and fear.
  • The truth? Mental disability is not a mental illness. Those that are struggling do not lack mental capacity and are not “crazy”.

Lack of awareness and thought leadership.

  • What do we know about depression?
  • The truth? Likely, not a lot when 43% of the population associates depression with weakness. Just living day-to-day requires tremendous courage.
  • Sourcing information and advocacy groups is a simple online search. Google “depression” and you have access to over 593 million search results.

The stigma results in sufferers hiding their illness. This affects personal relationships, work, and social lives. It impacts those stricken from seeking treatment. At its worse – suicide occurs.

So, do you want to do something about this?

  • First, educate yourself; to help you must increase your understanding.
  • Empathize with family members, friends, and workmates.
  • Talk about it, share what you’ve learned.
  • If you’re connected with a source for marketing and delivering a message reach out to them.

Depression costs the US economy $210B yearly and contributes directly and indirectly to a massive increase in healthcare costs; many lives are needlessly lost. Let’s start a movement, please share this article…

John Panigas is the author of Crazy, Who Me? My Journey as a Leader Overcoming Depression.  He provides workshops (What is the Cost of Depression on You and Your Business?), coaching, and in-house mental health wellbeing programs for leaders and organizations that realize there is both a personal and economical cost of depression to the business and the team. John’s methodology includes the tool, The COD (Cost of Depression) Calculator© that calculates the financial cost of depression on any business.

John can be reached at [email protected] or www.johnpanigas.com

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