Featured Mental health

Why talking about depression is important

daughter concerned about father with depression
Written by Jennifer Palisoc

Let’s face it, talking about what bothers us isn’t always easy. Especially, if a person is dealing with depression.

So when celebrities like actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson open up about battling depression, it can have an impact on the public, and maybe get us talking about mental health.

“Many people in our society look up to celebrities and some model their behaviour after them,” says Dr. Mark Sinyor, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “When a celebrity says that they have struggled with depression, anxiety or another mental disorder, it sends several important messages: This is ok to talk about; You can struggle and still have a meaningful and successful life; Mental distress can be overcome.”

In a tweet, The Rock shared this sentiment: “Took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it all in. You’re not alone.”

Dr. Sinyor notes, as a group, men are less likely to share their struggles with mental disorders and to seek help for these conditions. “The likely explanation has to do with male gender roles and the socialization of males to avoid vulnerability or perceived weakness.”

Dr. Sinyor adds that having someone like The Rock open up about his struggles can help open people’s minds. “Dwayne Johnson’s persona has always been that of an ’alpha male’. Having someone like him share his story of depression signals to others, especially men, that it’s ok for them to do so, too.”

That said, Dr. Sinyor emphasizes the importance of resisting blanket generalizations. It is not always the case that men bottle up their emotions. “There are some men who find it easy to open up and some women who don’t.”

While it is important for men to talk about mental health, he says it’s key for women too. “Women have nearly twice the risk of experiencing depression and anxiety disorders in their lifetimes as men.”

Why it’s hard to open up

Talking about our emotions can be difficult.

“Humans are still social animals and advertising our problems, especially ones that have historically been misunderstood, runs counter to our biology and social conditioning,” says Dr. Sinyor.

“We’re programmed to project strength to those around us.  That said, we’ve come a long way.  Decades ago we had the same issue with cancer.  People were frightened or embarrassed to talk about it, but now it’s become easier to share that diagnosis.”

Why reaching out is important

“Talking about depression and emotions is essential. The most important reason is that these things are real,” says Dr. Sinyor.

“We all have ups and downs. For some people, the downs can be so deep that they have a disorder.  There are very few situations in life where denial and avoidance get us very far. If we can be open and honest about how we feel individually and at a societal level, it gives us the best opportunity to find paths to resilience and ultimately, that’s what we’re all after.”

Getting help for depression

No matter who you are, it’s important to seek help. “We have excellent treatments for most mental disorders,” says Dr. Sinyor. “If you are depressed, changes to lifestyle, diet, exercise as well as talk therapy can be life changing.  In more severe cases, so can medication. The message we want to send as mental healthcare practitioners is that there is hope. You can get better. You can have a good life.”

Some of the symptoms of depression include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness and/or crying spells
  • lack of pleasure in life
  • withdrawal from favourite activities
  • thoughts of death and suicide

Click here to learn more about depression and the many resources available for people needing support.

About the author

Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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