We never thought the name of our author’s booth at the conference for the Missouri Association of School Librarians would bring home the stigma of depression in an unusual way.
We set up our booth with our books and information about the work we do – presentations, workshops, and support groups – to help those who live with and care for depressed people.We were ready for a day which we thought would bring discussion on depression and conversation on what it means to live with someone with mental illness. We were wrong.
It began subtly with people glancing in the direction of our booth and then hurrying past. Then there were those who answered our question, “Can we tell you about what we do?” with “No, I don’t need that.” The most interesting thing we witnessed was connected to the drawing at the end of the day. Attendees put their contact information on a card and left the cards at the booths to win prizes from particular vendors We witnessed more than one person, when they thought no one was looking, surreptitiously placing their card in the basket on our table. Stigma was at work once again.
On the flip side, people actually came to our presentation, titled “Helping Students Who Deal With Depression.” Some people tentatively shared a little of their own experiences. Others nodded in recognition as we spoke. And there was one person whose expressions and body language showed us that what was being said hit home.
Even better was what happened after the presentation. Several people stopped by our booth and shared their stories, hopefully as a result of hearing us chip away at the stigma of mental illness in our presentation. Moms with mentally ill children. A woman dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. Another woman with four aging and ailing parents. One with a husband who was just starting to try antidepressant medication.
People are hurting. They are looking for the chance to talk about how mental illness is affecting their lives. Too often the stigma prevents them from discovering that others are living in similar situations. Loneliness, isolation, abandonment abound, but one simple act of sharing can change all that.
Can you remember the first time when someone talked with you about their personal struggle with mental illness? Do you remember that realization that you were not alone? Some of us have been fortunate to have received this gift. What if those of us who have had this experience could be the hope for other hurting people?
We’re glad we could be that hope for those at the conference this weekend.
-Bernadette and Amy