Despite depression being a common issue affecting approximately 14.8 million adults in the US, there are still widely held misconceptions about what depression is.
1. Depression and sadness are one and the same
Though persistent sadness is often a symptom of depression, they are in fact not identical. Everyone feels sad from time to time and often in response to negative life events. Depression is a serious medical illness and may occur in the absence of a specific event or trigger.
2. Depression is a sign of mental weakness
Depression does not discriminate. It can affect anyone at any time regardless of race, creed, economic status, occupation, or family structure. In fact, those that are seen to be mentally strong- confident, hardworking, charismatic, etc. may be more susceptible to depression.
3. It isn’t a real illness
Major depressive disorder often requires treatment and may not get better on its own. Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the US for ages 15-44, and its annual toll on US business amounts to about $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs.
4. Depression is “all in your head”
Though depression is often associated with negative thought patterns, there is often a biological component to it as well. Now we can have the chicken and the egg argument over whether a depressed mood leads to depressive thoughts or vice versa, but that would miss the point, I think. Depression is not something that someone can just “snap out of” through positive thinking and physical activity (though those things can lead to some alleviation of symptoms for mild depression). For many people struggling with depression, treatment will consist of talk therapy, medication, or some combination of both.
5. Men don’t get depressed
Though depression is more common among women (with a prevalence rate of about 20-26% compared to that of 8-12% for men), men do get depressed. The signs and symptoms of depression may also vary based on a person’s gender as well. The fact is that men do experience depression. Men also tend to face a higher stigma when seeking assistance for their mental health which may lead to them self-medicating with drugs and alcohol which are more socially acceptable ways of dealing with life’s difficulties.
6. If your parents have it, you will too
Though there is often a genetic component and tendency for depression in families, it is not a certainty that if your parents or grandparents struggled with depression that you will too. Just like there is no guarantee that if your parents are diabetic that you will develop diabetes. Are you more likely to develop it than the average person? Sure. Is it guaranteed? No.
7. An antidepressant is all you need to feel better
Though an antidepressant can help to alleviate the symptoms of depression, there is no guarantee that it will work, and it is unlikely to address the underlying cause of depression unless it is strictly biological in nature. Especially for those who have been struggling with depression for a long time, it can lead to forming negative core beliefs about oneself and the world. These beliefs can lead people to be more susceptible to becoming depressed again in the future. That is why it is often recommended that those suffering with depression seek assistance from a licensed counselor as well.
8. You’ll need to be on medication for the rest of your life
Depression occurs in what are referred to as episodes. Just like your favorite TV show, these episodes often come and go. Some people will only experience a single episode of major depression in their lives. For others, there will be frequent and recurrent episodes. Many people who seek appropriate treatment can prevent relapsing. Often times medication is prescribed for the duration of the episode and is not something that one takes for the rest of their lives. Only a medical doctor or psychiatrist can determine when and for how long one should take an antidepressant or other medication, and you should never stop taking any medication without consulting your doctor.
9. Talking about depression just makes it worse
Many people think of counseling as an opportunity to vent about problems and only leads to becoming worked up about them again. Counseling is about problem-solving. A good counselor will teach you ways to cope with difficult emotions and negative thoughts. There may be some opportunity to vent as a means of release, but this should not be the predominant theme of sessions.
10. People who want help will seek it out themselves
Many people who are struggling with depression may find it hard to think clearly, make decisions, or even provide for their basic needs. Seeking the help of a licensed mental health provider may not even cross the mind of someone who feels stuck, hopeless, and alone. That is why it is important to recognize the warning signs of depression and speak up when you find yourself concerned about a family member or loved one. Some of the signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
- Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
- Pessimism, indifference
- Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
- Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Depression is much more common than many people think and can lead to deficits in one’s ability to function. If you or a loved one may be struggling with depression, please talk to a licensed mental health professional or your doctor. There is hope, and depression can be treated.