Depression affects 10% of people in America and about half of all college students report feeling so depressed at some point that they have trouble functioning. It’s becoming the “acceptable” mental health diagnosis but there are still many misconceptions about depression and what can be done about it.
Myth #1: Depression and sadness are the same thing
Sadness is not the same thing as depression though they are often confused for one another. Sadness is a normal human emotion that we need to feel and experience. Sadness is what you feel after experiencing a loss of some kind. It lets us know that we lost something important and that our feelings are real. Sadness communicates to people around us too. When we are sad people can see it in our eyes, our faces, our posture. When someone looks sad people around them reach out to give comfort and this in turn strengthens community and builds compassion. Being sad is normal and it is healthy and it will pass. Depression is a whole other matter. Unlike sadness, depression doesn’t pass on its own when we allow ourselves to feel it. Depression has a negative impact on our daily lives and can sometimes seem like a lack of feeling rather than extreme sadness – no motivation, no energy to do anything, in ability to enjoy things, difficulty making decisions or concentrating, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. When you are depressed you feel stuck and it can impact your health, your relationships, and your job.
Myth #2: It’s all in your head
Depression is a real and serious condition. It can be caused by physiological (genetic or biological) problems or situational problems or both. The medical community has recognized it as a disease, no different than diabetes or asthma and just as dangerous if left untreated. An illness that affects the chemistry of the brain and nervous system is no less an illness than one that affects any other part of the body. Depression isn’t just a mental condition, it’s an illness that manifests all over the body. Physical symptoms can include chronic pain and muscle aches, migraines, digestive problems, exhaustion, and changes in weight.
Myth #3: You can talk yourself out of it
You can’t talk yourself out of depression; you can’t just “snap out of it”. People don’t choose to be depressed and that can’t choose to be un-depressed. Depression isn’t a sign of laziness or weakness – it’s health problem with biological, psychological and social dimensions.
Myth #4: Real men don’t get depressed
Depression doesn’t discriminate based on gender (or anything else for that matter) but men tend to under report depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health 6 million men in the US struggle with depression each year. For men, depression is often linked to financial struggles, work stress or fear of failure. If they attribute their problems to career disappointment or failure they may not recognize that they need help. Also, depression is different for each person and can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. Men may try to self medicate with alcohol or drugs or try to “tough it out”. Unfortunately the white knuckle approach doesn’t work and the symptoms may become worse if they are ignored.
Myth #5: An antidepressant will fix everything
Antidepressants can be very helpful and sometimes absolutely necessary to treat depression but they aren’t “happy pills”. Antidepressant can relieve depression but that’s not the same thing as creating happiness. Additionally by some estimates nearly 40% of people prescribed antidepressants experience no benefits. Some people respond much better from various kinds of therapy or a combination of medication and therapy. Treatment that focuses only on medication often fails. There is no one cause for depression and therefore there is no one answer.
Myth #6: You will have to be on medication for the rest of your life
People who do get good results from antidepressants don’t necessarily have to be on them for life. If depression is situational then a short course of medication may be all that’s needed. If you do take antidepressants and want to get off them, it is very important to do so under medical supervision and taper slowly off the meds. Stopping them abruptly can cause backlash depression. Therapy can also be really helpful in addressing the underlying causes of the depression and once those causes are discovered, acknowledged and addressed medication may no longer be needed.
Myth #7: Talking about it makes it worse
It is easy to understand why someone might be reluctant to talk about their depression because of fear of vulnerability, worries about stigma or feeling that they are weak for needing help. However being alone with your thoughts is harmful when facing this disorder and can make it worse. People who are depressed don’t need to suffer alone and sometimes just asking for help is some relief. They can reach out to a close family member or friend or someone in their community or they can contact a mental health professional who knows how to help.
Depression is common and can be debilitating. If you think you may be struggling with depression you should seek help from a professional. Your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist can prescribe medication to reduce the symptoms but this won’t make the problem go away. Therapy can help you discover the underlying causes of the depression and get you through to the other side. Without treatment depression can last weeks, months or even years. The best treatment for depression is usually a combination of medication and therapy.