The stigma around depression is alive and well

Keith Wagstaff
The Week
Neil Munro (left) of The Daily Caller is skeptical about the whole "depression" thing.

An anti-ObamaCare column recommends "stoicism, hard work, marriage, prayer, and personal initiative" for those suffering from the disorder

On Monday, President Obama gave a fairly uncontroversial speech at the National Conference on Mental Health about removing the stigma surrounding mental illness, including depression, and imploring those who need help to seek treatment.

Neil Munro of The Daily Caller, however, saw something more sinister. President Obama was urging "depressed, stressed, and disturbed Americans to depend on the U.S. government's growing corps of taxpayer-funded mental health professionals."

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There are other ways to treat "anxiety" and "depression," as Munro wrote in scare quotes. Like, well, doing nothing, medically speaking:

Americans have typically responded to stress and sadness by urging stoicism, hard work, marriage, prayer, and personal initiative, and by stigmatizing unemployment and passivity.

The industry's professionals have long opposed those traditional responses, urged greater federal funding of their industry and sought to reverse public stigma against the use of their services. [The Daily Caller]

The idea of a doctor prescribing a dose of stoicism and an Our Father to those suffering from mental illness didn't sit too well with some people, including Jesse Berney, who wrote in Salon that questioning the legitimacy of disorders like depression could have serious consequences:

His depictions of depression and anxiety are genuinely malicious. He puts them in direct opposition to classic American values: hard work, marriage, and initiative, and conflates them with "unemployment" and "passivity." The message is clear: depression isn't real, and if you think you have it, it's entirely your fault. Munro's schoolyard bullying isn't just nasty and petty. It's dangerous. [Salon]

The dangers of ignoring these issues were highlighted by none other than the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, who blamed the "completely cracked mentally ill system," along with the lack of armed school staff, for mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary.

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And mass shooting deaths pale in comparison with suicide deaths, which in 2009 outpaced auto fatalities. "Suicide is the culmination of many complex forces," Namratha Kandula, an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University, wrote at CNN. "But it is often preceded by mental illness that could have been treated."

The Affordable Care Act, which is supposed to expand mental health services to more than 62 million Americans, is the main target of Munro's ire. Still, dismissing depression in the process of criticizing Big Government could do real damage, argued Berney.

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While many people recognize depression as a legitimate disorder, "there are people, probably including many of Munro's readers, who don't," Berney wrote. "Some of them need help. And there's a decent chance that some won't seek out the help they need because they believe what Munro wrote."

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