Jonathan Rottenberg, associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida is determined to bring depression out of the dark. Rottenberg suffered from a severe period depression and then it took him 20 years to disclose his experience to the world and to his daughter. Since then, he’s recognized that what kept him silent was society’s stigma of mental illness. If it were a physical illness, such as a heart attack, Rottenberg notes, no one would take 20 years to discuss it. So, what’s the difference? It’s the taboo of mental illness in society.
For that reason, Rottenberg and students at the University of South Florida run a volunteer based organization intended to begin a new and healthier discussion of depression. To do that they are giving away free glow-in-the-dark wristbands with the words “Come Out of the Dark”. Rottenberg offered three interpretations to the words on the wristband:
“To me, it means: let’s end society’s ignorance about depression. Let’s support depressed people so they get well and stay well. Let’s create an environment where people can speak freely about depression and no one feels compelled to conceal their pain.”
If you’re interested in getting your own wristband, you can do that here. The organization is also trying to break down the abstractions that come with depression statistics. Instead of indicating one out of five teens experience depression, they show actual faces of those who have been touched by this psychological illness. On the organization’s Facebook page, visitors can see pictures of those who are wearing the wristband either for themselves or for those they love. Providing images of real people whose lives have been affected by depression brings it alive and more meaningful.
Rottenberg argues that the reason behind not having adequate conversations about depression is that there is not a unifying symbol for the illness. For instance, the rainbow colored flag immediately brings to mind the LGBT community and the color pink to indicate the fight against breast cancer. However, depression lacks a symbol. Instead, the images that are often associated with the disease are the color black, a dark cloud, or a noose. These are symbols that lack hope and do not facilitate the possibility of a brighter future or a better conversation.
In the summer of 2013, Rottenberg ordered 200 bracelets and put the free offer out to the world. Initially, there was little response. However, it wasn’t long before his offer went viral and he was flooded with 3,000 orders! The number of teens and adults attracted to a healthier conversation about depression continues to grow.
And a discussion of this kind is in severe need. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is common mental illness in the United States. In fact, about 70 percent of all antidepressants sold in the world are sold in the United States. About 9 percent of American adults suffer from depression, and globally, five percent of the population across the planet suffers from depression, according to the World Health Organization.
Rottenberg believes that if enough people join the movement and help bring depression out of the dark, he estimates that the taboo of depression and perhaps mental illness in general won’t last long. “With your help,” he wrote, “I give the stigma of depression about another six months to live.”
Rottenberg, J. (March 21, 2014). It’s Time to Bring Depression Out of the Dark. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on May 12, 2014 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-rottenberg/its-time-to-bring-depression-out-of-the-dark_b_4997205.html