The Top 10 Myths and Misconceptions About Depression

Figure walking alone in dark forestThese days, it seems like depression is all over the news. It usually gets publicity when a high-profile tragedy occurs. You don’t hear people talking about how great they feel now that their depression is being effectively treated. A lot of inaccuracies and half-truths get thrown around, and it can be tough to dig through them and find the facts.

Here are 10 particularly troubling myths and misconceptions about depression. I’d love to hear what you would add to the list!

1. It’s Something You Should Be Ashamed Of

The shame people often experience with depression (or any other mental health issue) is real, but this doesn’t mean embarrassment is warranted. In the United States and its territories, as many as 9% of the population currently meets the criteria for depression. Hundreds of celebrities, athletes, and political figures are known to have struggled with depression. You have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Depression doesn’t mean you’re lazy or pouting or ungrateful.

2. If You Have Depression, You Will Always Feel Depressed

Depression comes in all shapes and sizes. For many people, their depression changes throughout their lives. Medication, life events, hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause, illness, or stresses can change depression. Some people find that psychotherapy relieves their symptoms, others seek out medication or homeopathies, and some make behavioral changes, such as exercise.

3. Depression Is Always Hereditary

Studies have shown that between 40% and 50% of depression is rooted in genetics. So if your parent or sibling has depression, it’s not a guarantee that you will develop it. There are also things you can do that might minimize your risk of developing depression. These include maintaining a strong support network, staying active, having a healthy diet, and learning positive coping skills such as meditation and deep breathing.

4. If Something Horrible Didn’t Happen, You Should Not Be Depressed

This is simply not true. Many people have a trigger in their lives, a trauma they can pinpoint as a starting point for their depression, such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. Sometimes a passing challenge, such as failing a test or moving, can bring on a major depressive episode. Or the depression can appear with no known trigger at all.

5. Depression Is Simply a Feeling

Depression is not having “the blues” or feeling sad. The DSM-5 (a handbook used by mental health professionals to determine what constitutes a diagnosable issue) includes a list of symptoms. People who are clinically depressed have a cluster of these symptoms, such as thoughts of suicide or death, insomnia or hypersomnia, significant weight loss, and depressed mood most of the day nearly every day.

6. Medication Is a Sure Cure for Depression

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that can obliterate depression. Depression is a complicated beast that can be incredibly hard to treat. Medication can be helpful at managing depression for some people. Others find that medication doesn’t help or, due to side effects, can even make things worse. It can take trying several different medications or combinations of treatments until you feel better.

7. Therapy Is a Sure Cure for Depression

Psychotherapy certainly can help people who struggle with depression. It’s been shown to decrease many symptoms and help people manage their moods. Like medication, though, therapy is not a cure in and of itself. Many people respond to therapy, but some don’t. A combination of therapy and medication tends to yield the best results, and many people incorporate both in their healing.

People with depression aren’t always depressed. Like everyone else, they have their good days and bad days.

8. If You’re Depressed, You Can’t Be Happy

People with depression aren’t always depressed. Like everyone else, they have their good days and bad days. When their depression is being effectively treated, the good days outnumber the bad. You cannot look at people’s Facebook pages with pictures of them laughing and enjoying life and conclude they’re not depressed. Many people are good at hiding their feelings and present to the world a persona that is much different from what they are experiencing.

9. Depression Shouldn’t Be Talked About

Millions of people throughout the world will experience depression sometime in their lives. You’re far from alone, and it doesn’t have to be something you keep secret. I’ve worked with people in therapy who, upon sharing their experience with friends and family, expressed surprise at how many of them also have struggled with depression.

10. If You Have Depression, You Will Never Have a Fulfilled, Productive Life

Depression is not a life sentence to misery. Depression is a treatable condition, and people who are diagnosed with it can go on to have wonderful, happy lives. The key is getting the correct treatment. If something you try isn’t working, keep searching. Find a psychiatrist or doctor who will patiently work with you to find the best medication, if you go that route. Find a skilled therapist who specializes in depression and whom you trust and feel a connection with.

Depression does not have to hold you hostage. The more people are honest about their struggles, the more accepting and understanding society will be—and the better off we all will be.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Current Depression Among Adults – United States, 2006 and 2008. MMWR 2010, Vol. 59 No. 38.
  2. Levinston, Douglas F., & Nichols, Walter E. (2015). Major Depression and Genetics. Stanford School of Medicine, Genetics of Brain Function. Retrieved from http://depressiongenetics.stanford.edu/mddandgenes.html

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, therapist in Columbus, Ohio

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Carolina

    Carolina

    May 28th, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    How are you ever going to find the strength to heal if this is something that you don’t feel like you can talk to someone about?
    I am not saying that you should wear a scarlet D from around your neck, but at the same time if it makes you feel better to talk about the issue, then I say have at it.
    I am not sure that there would be anyone who would ever say that they really do feel better when they have to keep their feelings bottled up on the inside.

  • Ann

    Ann

    May 28th, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    This is a great list! Especially #10. I guess I would also add that for some of us depression can be managed, but not cured. After my first major depressive episode, I assumed my doctor had cured me. This was 37 years ago. When another episode hit me many years later I was shocked. I thought I had done something wrong or was just a very weak person. With time and education I have learned to recognized the symptoms early and have a safety net (meds, psychiatrists etc.) to help me manage the difficult times. It isn’t easy, but at least I know I am not a bad person and the depressive episodes have long periods of relief.

  • Charlotte

    Charlotte

    May 28th, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    We have to find a way to break down these walls, help people see that this is not something that has to be hidden.

    And how do we do that?

    We let others know when this is how we are feeling and don’t think that we have to keep it hidden.

  • anon

    anon

    May 29th, 2015 at 6:44 AM

    Why should I open up when it so often leads to ridicule and asinine comments? No, I don’t choose to be depressed, and no I can’t just turn it off. My already raw soul will shy away from encounters that cause it pain. It’s called self preservation. Then, there’s always the fact that when I’m depressed I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to care. About anything. At. All. It all just feels overwhelming and you end up mired in place. It’s almost like trying to force your mind, body, and soul to move through quicksand.

  • Jane

    Jane

    May 29th, 2015 at 1:37 PM

    Although many people will say awful things out of ignorance or insensitivity, a surprising number opened up to me and told me about their depression or a family member who had one. I have found a Depression group that is warm and welcoming and we really support each other. You can talk, or not. We have helped many many people. I am in recovery, and have found that whatever helps comfort you……other than drinking! Do that. Family, friends , pets, art and faith all help me, and medication. Try to get all the encouragement you can from various sources, be good to yourself, and love yourself. You deserve the sane level of care as for any other illness……seek it out. It is there for you.

  • Mack

    Mack

    May 29th, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    There will eventually come into your life someone that you will wish to share all of this with, someone who will help you feel comfortable in your own skin and knowing that this is something that is manageable.

  • Caroleanne

    Caroleanne

    May 11th, 2017 at 10:16 AM

    I totally agree with you and I hate people who don’t understand mental illness and think it’s funny to take the mick it makes me so mad….

  • Siproena

    Siproena

    May 29th, 2015 at 1:10 PM

    My husband and I are once again living with his parents to help out due to but it has been even harder than before. His mother is very impatient, hollars, jumps to conclusions, and is used to getting her way whether or not we should meet her demands. I have lupus, rhematorid arthris, seizures, and depression while my husband’s anxieties have gotten worse along with his own chronic pains. We have tried to explain how and why her behaviors have put us down more but all she sees are inferiors age wise and throws her baggage on us. We cannot simply express our feelings or it becomes entirely our faults and money becomes her primary argument against us and her husband when we try to sway her from unnecessary material things and foods bad for diabetics. How do we deal with someone who has many health problems but will not hear anything you say even if it can help their overall health in the long run?

  • jetta

    jetta

    May 30th, 2015 at 7:07 AM

    There is a way through this, a way out of the darkness but a large part of that is going to depend on you and how much you are willing to fight to make that a reality for you.

    It may seem like there is only darkness, but I have fought it and won. I know that there is that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel but it takes work and sacrifice to get there.

  • Shannah

    Shannah

    May 30th, 2015 at 3:29 PM

    A great reminder that the things that we so often believe are not the truth in any way at all

  • Fara

    Fara

    May 31st, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    Those of us who have lived through this know a little something about being depressed.

    But it always seems that those who haven’t experienced this on a personal level are the ones who always profess to know it all and yet really they know very little.

  • Canyon

    Canyon

    June 4th, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    Sometimes you won’t know what the sure fix will be until you exhaust all avenues and try many different things. And sometimes there is nothing to do per se other than talk it through with someone that you can trust who can help you find your way back from that fog that can be depression.

  • Teresa

    Teresa

    August 24th, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    Would you do an article on the complications of ECT? The last three years after treatment have ruined my life and yet I don’t seem to care. I can’t keep track of time.

  • billy d

    billy d

    December 25th, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    Depression most certainly is not a feeling or emotion. It is more like a demon that lives inside your soul. It picks and claws at you, telling you you’re not good enough, that everything wrong in your life is your fault, that your life isn’t worth the living. The demon will subside from time to time but comes back with even more rage bringing more pain. Medication is only a partial treatment for depression, those who suffer it also need a support group of family, loved ones and people who understand what they’re going through. Keep fighting, life is worth it, your loved ones are worth it, you are worth it

  • Kris

    Kris

    April 5th, 2017 at 4:56 PM

    I had been diagnosed with severe depression about 19 years ago and on multiple medications that eventually my system becomes immune to. A out 5 years ago GAD was added to the diagnosis and I feel it’s worse than depression. They prescribed an anti-anxiety med that had been working for a while but also seems to have plateaued but I still take it because my options are limited. Having recently become unemployed due to downsizing hasn’t helped the issue either of course. My family does not that seem to understand that it is not an attitude that I can change by thinking differently, and it’s not like I can flip it off with a switch. It’s an illness or dysfunction that sneaks in and attacks without warning or provocation most times. Sometimes a small incident can set it off. The hardest part is not being able to educate them on this and to be able to get the emotional/moral support I need from them to make working through it easier. The negative criticism I receive from them when experiencing my attacks only make it worse. They tell me it’s because I’m negative, and I need to look at the bright side, or that I’m irrational, or pessimistic. I know in my heart I am not these things and outside of my episodes, I am a positive and rational person, and I even have a sense of humor. I just don’t know how to get them to understand, and I k ow this may be my anxiety speaking, but I worry that I eventually will be alienated by them, and left to suffer by myself. My children already try to avoid me as much as possible. I don’t want to pass down this trait to them, so if this is what they fear, I can understand. I just wish I could educate them so they can be more supportive and perhaps, if this is possibly hereditary we can work on learning to manage it together. My spouse just gets angry and it only escalates the problem.

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