How can we break the stigma and change the perception of depression?

Depression can affect everyone – an introduction to the topic

“My world falls apart, crumbles, the centre cannot hold. There is nowhere to go.” 
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

In Switzerland one person out of seven experiences depression symptoms at least once during their life (FSO, 2020). Although depression is a widespread disease, it still remains quite little known and often misunderstood. Experts state that a diagnosis is fundamental, as non-treated depression can lead to unnecessary suffering and may endanger those who suffer from it. Depression can affect everyone and has a profound impact on individuals’ quality of life. This blog post aims to raise awareness about this disease and, with a 3-step guide, gives tips about how to support a person who shows depression symptoms. In addition to this, I will introduce an interesting design management initiative in which I see great potential to decrease the current stigma related to this topic. At the end of this post I will provide you with links to learn more about this complex, yet highly relevant subject.

A brief outlook: What is depression?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines depression as a mental disorder in the form of persistent sadness and a lack of gratification in previously pleasing activities and events. On the occasion of the World Mental Health Day 2017, the WHO published an illustrated story that portrays depression with the metaphor of a black dog (link). Complex interactions between social, psychological and biological factors play a crucial role in the causes of depression. Did you know that depression can be experienced in many different ways? Some can be affected by a single episode in their life, while for others is a recurring evil. Depression disorders can be triggered as a consequence of a particular event, or the result of an extended period of overload. But not only: depression can hit like a thunderbolt. This link will tell you more about the symptoms of depression.

Why is depression so stigmatized in our society?

The great pressure we experience in our everyday life has a severe impact on our mental health. At this point, it is worth reflecting on the fundamental role that society plays in our lives. We are constantly asked to meet expectations and aspire to perfectionism. This constant pressure may hinder us to understand who we are and what values we want to pursue. On one hand, we build ourselves a life that does not take into account our weaknesses and insecurities. On the other hand, the expectations set by other people create stress and anxiety. We may end up living a life that does not reflect who we want to be, and this may lead to continuous, growing frustration and unfulfillment. We do not recognize that we are pursuing goals imposed by society. And, once we achieved them, we eventually realize that this may not be what we wanted. Individuals might not be confident enough to externalize their feelings as well as admit and communicate their weaknesses. We struggle to ask for any help because it seems like there is no space for frailties in our culture. Society tends to minimize the problem or does even not acknowledge it. As a consequence, those who suffer from depression symptoms may feel lonely and helpless, stuck in their sense of guilt and discomfort. How can we overcome the stigma associated with mental disorders?

The value of using the correct language when talking about depression

Scarce information, as well as prejudices and fear, may hinder depression recognition and treatment. To overcome this stigma, we must recognize the importance of a correct use of the language. For instance, we must make sure that the term depression is not downplayed or misused. A proper language and approach around the topic will change the perception of depression for both, those who suffer from it and those who are around and may offer their support. The goal is to make depression something of public domain, a common imagery that can happen to everyone at any time. And to do this, depression must be addressed directly, without futile twists and turns. Talking about it freely and correctly is the first step to recovery. Of course, it is easier said than done: the journey is long and requires great will and commitment from people. How can we do that? The following section introduces an initiative held between May 2019 and January 2020 in Ticino which is a great example of how design management can contribute to address this societal challenge.

A look at the project “Depression: Let’s talk about it!”

The campaign “Depression: Let’s talk about it!”, has been ideated and promoted by the Department of Public Health of Ticino in collaboration with L’ideatorio (a laboratory of Università della Svizzera italiana). This initiative aimed at the general public and consisted in a series of events that combined experts’ interventions with different disciplines such as theatre, cinema, literature, and medicine to create a new language and bring the audience closer to the theme of depression. As this initiative caught my attention and interest, I tried to get access to more information and had the opportunity to interview one of the promoters. The idea behind was to experiment with something new moving away from the traditional conference style, that would most likely catch the interest of those who are directly affected by depression, excluding most of the population. The objective was to provide a platform to listen to professionals, share testimonies, and encourage the public to reflect on how essential it is to be aware of this disease. More in general, it was conveyed the importance of understanding that depression is a disease that needs to be addressed…the sooner, the better! The biggest insight of “Depression: Let’s talk about it!” was that it is vital to actively act and reach out to people, without expecting that they will be the ones looking for you. The challenge is to be able to integrate the theme in events and environments where also people not directly affected by this disease can be addressed.

How to support – a 3-step guide

Depression is a recognized illness. Addressing the disease is the first step toward recovery and being able to capture the signals is an essential point to start from. Here is a 3-step guide that will give you a first brief outlook of how to behave in case a relative or a friend shows depression symptoms.

  1. Create a non-judgmental environment

Listen carefully and avoid downplaying the disease. This could make feel the person not understood, as well as increase the sense of guilt that may worsen the problem. Also, do not underestimate and neglect discomfort: try to be receptive and to create a non-judgmental atmosphere where the person feels at ease in sharing his or her thoughts, fears and emotions. In such situations, it is important to have someone to trust and who gives the chance to open up. Keeping things in can be harmful!

  1. Make it a habit to talk

Individuals suffering from depression may often ask themselves whether what they are experiencing is normal or not. For this reason, it is important to talk as freely as possible and confront each other. To help this happen, try to make it a habit to freely talk about feelings and emotions. Eventually, try to support and guide this person to seek external help. In case the person does not accept professional support right away, try to tackle the issue during critical moments, such as crisis, when the person seems to need help most. As every depression case is unique, there is no manual to learn how to behave in such circumstances. If the person seeks help, it may be useful to get in touch with the treating physician and ask for advices (of course, without invading privacy).

  1. Take care of your personal mental health

Last but not least, remember to take good care of yourself too! Trying to help out others is a noble action but requires a certain amount of energy and efforts. Therefore, it is essential to make sure you feel strong enough to face the situation and are able give the support this person deserves. This link will provide you with tips of how to take good care of your mental health.

Below you can find further readings and helpful sources to get more insights about this complex, yet highly sensitive and relevant topic.

Sources and helpful links:

Federal Statistical Office (2020). Health. Retrieved from

Keck, M. E. (2017). Depression. Retrieved from (Italian)

L’ideatorio (2019). Depressione, parliamone! Retrieved from (Italian) (2020). Retrieved from

World Health Organization (2020). Depression. Retrieved from

1 Reply to “How can we break the stigma and change the perception of depression?”

  1. Thank you, Fabia!
    The topic is very timely, especially in this quarantine situation: Mental health is important.
    In the very first paragraph, the quotation of Sylvia Plath caught my interest. And the general explanation of Switzerland situation was also helpful to understand whole contents because relatively I didn’t know well about Switzerland. The first paragraph is a good start to read. If there is one suggestion, it would be better if you mention the source of this: “Experts state that a diagnosis is fundamental…” I also appreciate that you indicated clearly what content it will contain and what its aim is. It was helpful to predict and understand the whole contents.

    I could earn a lot of information and benefits from this. About the definition of depression to a 3-step guide, I think these are helpful to people who want to understand the depressed and support them. Especially, using the link in the middle of the blog was a good way. The metaphor of a black dog, which is a video from WHO, offers information visually. By including a form which is different from writing as a link, it makes readers to have interest continuously and keeps the writing from getting too long.
    the how who support-a 3- step guide, is appropriate. It’s not that long, but not superficial. I could see your detailed care and attitude about this sensitive topic from some expression-eg. (of course, without invading privacy). And emphasizing personal mental health (3. Take care of your personal mental health) is good. I think this reminds readers that their mental health is also important, raising awareness again that depression can affect anyone.
    Even though this topic is sensitive, your language has high accessibility with clear, understandable expression. For me, my English is not that good compared with other classmates, but I could read your blog without a big problem.
    Overall, the organization is well-made. Even if readers don’t have much knowledge of this topic, the flow makes them to understand easily. Detailed explanation of the definition, symptoms-> the reason->the value of overcoming problems -> guide (solution): this structure makes it easy to follow the flow of writing.
    While reading this article, I felt that this was written with a lot of research and delicate and cautious attitudes. Although this topic is sensitive, I think this can approach to readers comfortably. For the last, one thing I want to suggest is, it would be good if the last paragraph, the conclusion part is a little bit longer and includes summary!
    Thanks for your blog!

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