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Don’t Hide Mental Illness; Accept and Forgive Yourself if You’re Depressed
Edmonton Journal, July 6, 2009
In 1957, the American Medical Association accepted alcoholism as an illness.
At about the same time, alcoholism found a place in the American Psychiatric
Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual– the hallowed handbook that
doctors use to diagnose mental illness.
In other words, alcoholism is an illness. It is a mental illness. People who
have alcoholism, like me, are not weak or lacking discipline. In fact, most
of the alcoholics I know –in recovery and still drinking– are very strong
and very disciplined. That’s how we convince ourselves that we are in
control and what makes us so annoying.
Learning that alcoholism is a legitimate illness helped me immensely. It
gave me some self-esteem, hope and the final word in conversations with
know-it-alls who believe we could quit drinking if we really, really tried:
“Well, I guess you know more than the American Medical Association because
the AMA decided that alcoholism is an illness 50 years ago.”
Depression is different. There are a lot of people who admit that depression
is a real illness. They feign sympathy and tell you about someone else’s
struggle with depression.
But you can tell by their zealous enthusiasm they don’t really believe it. I
hate to admit I was among them.
I knew that Hippocrates declared depression a real illness several thousand
years before the American Psychiatric Association.
Folks that I admired–Michelangelo, Eric Clapton–suffered from depression.
But when dealing with someone with depression, I thought: “Get a grip
already, will ya?”
When I was diagnosed with a major clinical depression, what helped me more
than the manuals and medical endorsements were the aw-shucks comments from
friends: “I’ve been on antidepressants for years.” Or, “Actually, I am on
two antidepressants.” Or, “I have to be on either antidepressants or
hormones or I’m a mess.”
The moral is simple:Do whatever it takes to accept and forgive yourself for
being mentally ill.