Depression is a serious mental disorder that produces strong negative feelings, drains energy, and lowers interest levels. It affects people all over the world, and roughly 7 percent of adults in the United States have experienced it.
Even though it is a relatively common condition, there are still many myths and misunderstandings about what it is and how it should be treated. More than just being annoying, misinformation can actually prevent people from seeking the treatment they need.
Here's our reality check of 5 common myths about depression we need to stop saying:
Myth 1: Depression isn't a real illness. Everyone gets sad sometimes.
Yes, everyone gets sad sometimes. It's a normal, natural emotion. Depression goes far beyond simply getting the blues and is a very real medical condition that reflects an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Depression can involve extended periods of time of feeling lost and hopeless, losing interest in hobbies, and withdrawing from loved ones. It can involve spending far too much time sleeping or avoiding it entirely. This illness can and does affect day-to-day life.
Saying that depression isn't real is kind of like saying, "Cancer isn't a real illness. Everyone's cells divide sometimes." There is a clear difference between a normal biological process and a runaway effect that turns into a serious problem.
Myth 2: Taking antidepressants is a cop-out.
To the uninformed, it may seem like an antidepressant is just a magic pill meant to make a person's problems disappear, eliminating the need for hard work. There are many different types of antidepressants that do different things, but they essentially just help maintain chemical balances in the brain.
These medications don't completely eliminate symptoms of depression, but they do give the brain the tools it needs to better regulate things like mood and sleep, greatly improving a person's quality of life. They're not a cop-out. They're a way to keep fighting.
Antidepressants are just one proven way of treating depression, along with therapy, exercise, and even electrical stimulation of the brain and nerves. Not all of these treatments are appropriate for every single person with depression, but some doctors may recommend a combination in order to best serve each individual.
Myth 3: Only adults get depressed.
Because adults tend to romanticize childhood as a magical time free of responsibilities, it's heartbreaking to imagine that some kids feel the crushing weight of depression just as much as some adults do.
Yes, there are a lot of psychological growing pains that children go through, such as learning social dynamics, understanding their own emotions, and going through the hormonal hell of puberty. This can understandably be hard for the child as he or she figures out their place in the world, but it isn't as simple as that for some kids.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know what's a normal part of growing up and what is actually a condition that requires treatment. According to the Anxiety And Depression Association of America, about 3 percent of children 6-12 experience depression. That number increases to 8 percent as they enter the teen years.
Myth 4: Depression is a sign of weakness. Strong people don't get depressed.
Depression doesn't discriminate in who it affects, so it's wrong to say that someone is weak for having it or strong for not. Because of the stigma that mental illness is a sign of weakness, many people avoid getting the help they desperately need and suffer more than they have to.
Depression can feel like a crushing weight, making it difficult to do some of the most basic day-to-day tasks. Fighting back against that does not make someone weak. It takes an enormous amount of strength to do.
Myth 5: If someone is depressed, they'll always take the right steps to get treatment.
It would be wonderful if everyone who was depressed was able to recognize it affects the quality of their life and go to the doctor to begin a treatment plan. Unfortunately, that's not always what happens and it can lead to behavior that's a lot more destructive.
Many people with depression have a hard time getting out of bed to eat, let alone call a doctor, get dressed, drive across town to the office, and then start to deal with the problem. Some others are so overwhelmed by the darkness of their reality, they try to escape it through drugs and alcohol. Others try to gain control through self-harm. Sadly, some even commit suicide.
Though it's easy to agree that none of these are helpful, to a person who is overwhelmed by depression, it can feel like these bad behaviors are being helpful to lessen the depression, even if they create new problems along the way.
If you recognize signs of depression in a loved one, don't assume they'll figure it out for themselves. Offer to help them by making the appointment for them, bringing them to the appointment, researching a good therapist, and holding their hand throughout the process.
The Final Word:
Depression is a serious disorder that affects millions of people. It's not made up. It's not something someone can snap out of. It's not anything to be ashamed of.
It can be hard for those without depression to understand what someone struggling is going through, but it's better for them to ask questions and try to empathize rather than make uninformed comments and cast judgment.
We need to speak out about depression in order to eliminate these myths and decrease the stigma so that everyone can feel comfortable getting the help they need.