10 myths about depression
“He’s going to therapy, madman.”
“Get a grip, other people have worse problems.”
“It’s just sadness, not a real disease.”
The above examples are just a drop in the sea of many harmful messages that people with depression receive on a daily basis. Despite the large number of social campaigns and the myriad of publicly available educational materials, there is still too often conflicting information about it. Beliefs about depression circulating in society are often not true and can effectively stop people in need from starting treatment.
It is most effective to counteract falsehood with reliable knowledge, which is the purpose of today’s text is to refute some of the most common myths about depression:
1. “Where there’s a will there’s a way, get a grip, depression is not a disease”Depression cannot be cured by willpower. The disease develops on the basis of neurotransmitter changes in the brain – there is an imbalance in serotoninergic, dopaminergic and noradrenergic systems. Genetic, hormonal and psychological factors add to this (you can read more about the causes of depression in our article “What are the causes of depression?“). The disease manifests itself both somatically and mentally. To sum up, you can’t cure her with a firm decision. Would we ask someone suffering from hypertension or migraine? Of course, positive thinking helps and its learning is part of cognitive-behavioral therapy, commonly used to treat depression, but professional help is essential.
2. “Antidepressants cause addiction”Most drugs commonly used to treat depression improve the uptake of specific neurotransmitters in the nervous system. Thanks to this, they reduce the main symptoms of depression – mood disorders, sleep problems, concentration or appetite. These drugs are not addictive. However, they should be discontinued slowly, usually after 6-12 months of treatment, but the exact course of the psychiatrist discusses individually with each patient. Like any new chemical supplied to the body, they can cause minor side effects, including diarrhea and drowsiness. Antidepressants are effective and many patients notice significant improvement after 4-6 weeks of treatment. However, we cannot forget that psychotherapy and psychoeducation are also the basis for the treatment of depression.
3. “Depression is the same for every patient.”One of the reasons why depression is an extremely insidious disease is because of its many faces. Each patient’s course may be different, differing in type and number of symptoms, as well as the way they are manifested. Depression is influenced by environmental factors, age, gender, genes and many other variables. Attempts have been made to assign typical symptoms to specific patient groups (however, this is not a rule): sadness and guilt in women, fatigue and irritability in men, fear of school and pretending to be sick in children, sleep problems and appetite in the elderly … So different one and the same disease can take on the face. Therefore, be alert if you notice a disturbing change in behavior that persists in yourself or a loved one for at least two weeks.
4. “Depression is a sign of weakness or just an excuse for responsibilities.”Depression is a disease, and its causes, as we wrote above, are diverse and still not fully understood. You should be aware that thinking in depression changes and often even the simplest routine tasks seem insurmountable challenges. However, this is not a sign of weakness or laziness, but a neurological disorder caused by the disease. Misconception in this matter confirms many patients with a deeper sense of guilt, reducing their self-esteem. On the other hand, one should not expect a person who has never had a depressive episode to understand how difficult everyday life becomes. The key to agreement is a bit of empathy and ensuring that the sick person is close.
5. “Psychiatrist treatment and participation in therapy means I’m crazy.”Therapy is the basic treatment for depression. As we mentioned, depression cannot be overcome by willpower – during meetings with the therapist, the patient learns to cope with his emotions and learns about tools that will help him be strong every day. This is not a reason to give someone a “crazy” patch. What’s more, patients who choose treatment have a good chance of remitting the disease, regardless of its stage. Thanks to the skills acquired during therapy, they will not only cope with depression, but will be stronger during more difficult periods in the future.
6. “I can’t do anything for my loved one who has depression, he has to make an effort himself, only a psychiatrist / psychologist will help him.”Although a depressed person will often pretend to his loved ones that everything is fine, it is worth being vigilant and putting more effort into helping. One of the typical symptoms of the disease is social isolation, and contact may be difficult. However, being close, letting you know that you are with the sick, if he needed it, by listening and without assessing problems we can do more than we think. It is also worth learning more about the disease to try to empathize with the patient’s situation. Introduce him to the possibilities of professional help, not pressing, but showing real opportunities for improvement. Ultimately, it is up to the patient to decide to start treatment, but the support of loved ones is of great importance.
7. “Depression is a symptom of youthful rebellion.”Adolescence is naturally associated with increased mood swings and greater stress. However, the belief that depression accompanies most teenagers leads to downplaying this serious illness. According to statistics, it affects about 13.3% of people aged 12-17 in the USA. This is a group that needs special attention, because depression can be easily overlooked at this time. If depressed mood, irritability, and concentration problems persist for more than two weeks, they may be symptoms of depression. Vigilance should also be sharpened if a teenager loses interest, is isolated or begins to perform worse at school. Let’s never ignore a request for help.
8. “You can identify the specific cause of depression (e.g., mourning, job loss, divorce).”Although it is true that these difficult situations can in some cases cause a depressive episode, the disease does not have to have a tangible cause. What’s more, depression does not choose – every person, younger or older, male or female, can get it. Misconceptions on this subject can be a source of harmful messages, for example “after all you have everything you need, why are you sad?” Also during therapy, less is considered about the causes of the disease, and more about how to deal with negative thoughts.
9. “Depression will go by itself and you can’t help it.”Untreated depression can last for months or even years. In many cases, abandoning treatment leads to such tragic consequences as losing a job, neglecting oneself and one’s family, and in extreme cases even suicide. Fortunately, treatment, which is usually a combination of psychotherapy, antidepressants and psychoeducation, brings very good results. What’s more, they can be taken at any time, even during very severe episodes of depression. The type of medication and therapy, determined individually during the doctor’s visit, is not the most important – the most important step in treatment is the patient’s conscious decision and motivation to make it.
10. “Depressed people look different than healthy people.”Depression cannot be recognized at first glance. It does not cause such visible symptoms as rash or swelling. Contrary to popular belief, patients do not often have to cry. What’s more, they can effectively mask themselves, fearing to admit to their loved ones that they need help and something is wrong – many of them are ashamed and afraid of receiving a patch of “the weak”. They can smile in company, dress colorfully, be successful at work, but suffer in the comfort of their own home. Therefore, let’s be sensitive and remember that depression has many different faces: sad, irritable, sleepy, helpless, but also smiling.
Psychoeducation and deepening knowledge about depression brings beneficial effects both for the patient and his relatives. Erroneous, unfair beliefs are often the reason why those in need do not choose treatment. It is worth knowing what is a myth and what is the truth – it is not known when this knowledge will be useful to us and who we will be able to help with it.