Debunking Myths About Depression
January 8, 2021
If you ask the average person if they know what depression is, they’d likely say they do. However, the various myths and assumptions about depression that permeate our society have to make you question how accurate people’s perceptions of depression are.
Depression is a mood disorder with symptoms that cause distress to various aspects of your life and self--emotions, thoughts, and behaviors being disrupted regularly for at least two weeks is required for a diagnosis of depression. Depression is much more complex than a simple definition can capture, and is unfortunately plagued by many public misconceptions. If you’re interested in understanding depression with accurate information, check out eight depression myths below that have officially been debunked.
1. Myth: There’s only one type of depression
Fact: Depression as a disorder has several subtypes
While most people are familiar with major depressive disorder, they often assume that’s the only type of depression one can have. Though MDD is one of the most common forms, depression exists in various types.
Major depressive disorder symptoms include feelings of emptiness and hopelessness that negatively influence thoughts, interests, appetite, and other vital parts of daily life. Dysthmia, or persistent depressive disorder, differs from MDD in that symptoms persist regularly for at least two years and aren’t as severe. Perinatal and postpartum depression can result in symptoms during or after pregnancy respectively. Seasonal affective disorder entails depression symptoms that persist and subside during various seasons of the year. Though some core symptoms of depression are shared by these forms, they all differ in symptoms, symptom severity, and circumstance.
Depression can also coexist with other mental health diagnoses. Depression is overall a complex and prevalent mental illness. It is anything but one-dimensional.
2. Myth: Depression always occurs in response to an event or trauma
Fact: Depression can have many possible causes or none at all
Depression is a complex mental illness, and understanding its causes is just as complex as the symptoms themselves. Though it’s a common myth that depression only occurs in reaction to a trauma or event, there are actually a variety of possibilities for what may be causing one’s depression. Sometimes the cause can be pinpointed, and other times there is none.
Life events are only one of the potential triggers of depression. Continued, long-term stressors such as a toxic relationship or prolonged work dissatisfaction are more likely to trigger depression than a new event. An unfortunate combination of long-term and recent life stressors can also cause depressive episodes.
Genetics-influenced factors can also be predictors of depression. If depression diagnoses are prevalent in a family, that may predict diagnoses down the family line. However, one’s genetic history provides no solid guarantee of having depression. Personality factors can also make some people more susceptible to depression, especially those with more neurotic tendencies.
Depression has many other potential causes, such as drug use or one’s brain chemistry. For some, depression can also appear suddenly and without a direct trigger. The best predictors for depression tend to be prevalence of symptoms, which are best identified by a professional.
3. Myth: Old people are more likely to be depressed
Fact: Younger people have higher rates of depression
It’s a common misconception that everyone’s adolescent period is their golden days and that growing into old age is when depression sets in. While some people might experience this in their lifetime, the myth that depression is more predominant in older populations is false.
Depression doesn’t discriminate against age. Children, teens, and adults of all ages are susceptible to the mood disorder. A 2017 study debunked myths regarding depression in different age populations--it was concluded that older adults had lower reports of MDD compared to younger populations. The tumultuous times of adolescence and young adulthood predict higher rates of depression for younger people. There were also little symptomatic differences between age populations for MDD.
Depression may manifest differently across age groups, with older people being less likely to admit to symptoms, teens likely expressing symptoms through behavioral changes, and children projecting their feelings onto others. However, depression generally remains consistent in terms of symptoms and ability to affect all ages.
4. Myth: It’s the same as sadness
Fact: Depression is more complicated than a sad mood
The average person may have a difficult time understanding the differences between sadness and depression. This is understandable since sadness is a symptom of depression. However, the myth that the mood and the mood disorder are identical is false.
One of most notable differences between sadness and depression are their classifications. Sadness is a mood, which is a temporary, emotional state of mind. Depression is a mood disorder whose distressing symptoms affect areas of one’s life and perceptions that are beyond the reach of sadness. Depression as a disorder also lasts for much longer than a sad mood. While sadness is an obstacle that one can usually tackle on their own, depression is a beast that usually requires professional assistance to defeat.
5. Myth: Medication cures depression
Fact: Medication can only treat the disorder
Depression is an illness that can influence your body beyond your mind and feelings. Medication can therefore be a fitting treatment for depression if a professional thinks it’s best for you. But don’t believe the hype about medicine curing or solving depression--it’s simply one of many treatment options.
Antidepressants treat the disorder by addressing chemical imbalances in the brain that can lead to depressive symptoms. For some, medication may be enough to tackle depression. For others, it may not work at all or works even better in combination with other treatments.
Psychotherapy and brain stimulation therapies are other effective treatments for depression. While psychotherapy addresses thought and behavioral habits that contribute to one’s depression, stimulation therapies like transcranial magnetic stimulation target the brain’s chemical imbalances that medications aren’t effective for.
6. Myth: Talking doesn’t help
Fact: Talking about your symptoms can be therapeutic
An unfortunate stigma about depression and therapy is that talking about your mental health issues will not help improve your symptoms. Most people assume that talking about your problems is different from solving them. Well in the case of treating depression, talk therapy is an efficient option for minimizing and treating symptoms.
Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, can address the emotional difficulties and symptoms of depression through interpersonal interaction. As one shares their feelings and symptomatic struggles, the psychotherapist is able to help them understand how to best adjust their thoughts, behaviors, and life circumstances in treating their symptoms. Various studies have concluded that psychotherapy can cause positive changes in the brain identical to those caused by psychiatric medication.
There are several types of psychotherapy, ranging from cognitive-behavioral to psychodynamic therapy. Each therapy differs in their treatment focus and intervention methods, but there’s an effective therapy or therapy combination out there for those struggling with depression.
7. Myth: You’re only depressed if you can’t leave bed
Fact: You can be depressed and high-functioning
When the average person imagines depression, the first image they likely think of someone unable to get out of bed or go to work. While this may be the case for many with depression, the disorder doesn’t always appear the same in everyone who has it. There are plenty of depressed people who still leave their beds every morning to push through a day of work. While those more intensely affected by depression can be described as having low function, the myth about low-functioning depression presenting in all sufferers is false.
What many people refer to as high-functioning depression is actually persistent depressive disorder. While those with PDD experience symptoms similar and milder compared to those of major depressive disorder, they are also able to carry out daily activities amidst their symptoms. PDD can allow one to put on a happy face and appear well-adjusted to those around them--but their depressive symptoms still lurk beneath their mask. Those who aren’t as energetic likely have a different type of depression.
8. Myth: Alternative treatment are always effective
Fact: Little research evidence supports the efficacy of alternative treatments for depression
The most common depression treatments range from medications and psychotherapy to brain stimulation and combination treatments. However, various other alternative treatment options have been explored and yield inconclusive results in treating depression.
An herbal medicine called St. John’s Wort has been thought to mimic the chemical-balancing effects of antidepressants, but studies have shown that it’s no more effective for depression than a placebo. The herbal supplement has also been shown to weaken the effects of other prescription medications and can cause fatal levels of serotonin to rise if taken with antidepressants.
Other alternative depression treatments include omega-3 fatty acid supplements and acupuncture. While omega-3s are thought to permeate the brain’s membrane to adjust mood, acupuncture targets points on the body associated with negative feelings. Studies on each alternative treatment’s effectiveness for depression are overall inconclusive.
Depression can be difficult to comprehend and deal with. Hopefully these facts about depression have made the disorder itself and its treatment options a little easier to understand.