Open and honest communication is one of the best ways to create an environment of trust and empathy. If you or a loved one are experiencing depression, here is a list of five myths that need to be stamped out in order to promote healthy and helpful relationships with self and with others:
Myth 1: Depression is a mood you can get yourself out of.
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act” (American Psychiatric Association, 2018). People can experience feelings of depression without being clinically depressed. This often leads to the misconception that clinical depression is something that can be controlled by “looking on the bright side” or smiling, being positive or various other pieces of self-help-sounding advice. Clinical depression is a mental disorder resulting from chemical imbalances in a person’s brain and can’t just be willed away.
Myth 2: Depression comes as a result of….
This myth is similar to the first and stems from a lack of understanding. You don’t actually need a reason to feel depressed; depression happens on a neurological level. Harold W. Koenigsberg, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine states that “[i]n clinical depression, the bodily concomitants (e.g. low energy level, inability to activate pleasure circuitry, etc.) are fixed [and] cognitive patterns lose their flexibility” (Abrams, 2018). This means that even though a depressed person may feel privileged (with a home, a family, a car or meaningful relationships), their feelings of depression may not necessarily reflect their lifestyle. So telling someone that they have “no reason” to be depressed is not only insensitive, it perpetuates feelings of shame and sadness that cause more harm than good.
Myth 3: Strong people don’t get depressed/Depression is a sign of weakness.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that people who suffer from depression are inherently weak. Many celebrity role models such as Chrissy Teigen, Carrie Fisher, Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez and even Princess Diana have spoken out in the past about their struggles with depression. These strong, independent and influential women prove that depression doesn’t discriminate. In fact, it takes a lot of strength to go through life with depression.
Myth 4: If you’re functioning, you’re faking it.
Mental illness doesn’t have the same visibility as a physical condition, like a broken bone or the flu. Just because you can’t see the symptoms of depression on the surface doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Many of the symptoms of depression are viewed by our society as signs of weakness, making it hard for those who suffer from it to be vulnerable about their condition.
Myth 5: Depression must be justified to friends and family.
While society has come a long way in terms of recognizing mental illness, depression remains widely misunderstood. Those who suffer from depression still experience unintentional shaming at the hands of well-intentioned friends and family who just can’t comprehend what their loved ones are going through. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you don’t have to justify your behavior to someone. Period. And if you know someone suffering from depression, offer support without needing to know all the details. Depression is personal.
Abrams, A. (2018, February 01). 5 Myths About Depression We Need to Shut Down Immediately. Retrieved February 2018, from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nurturing-self-compassion/201802/5-myths-about-depression-we-need-shut-down-immediately
American Psychiatric Association. (2018). What is Depression. Retrieved February 2018, from American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
Bhatia, S. K., & Bhatia, S. C. (2007, January 01). Childhood and Adolescent Depression. Retrieved February 2018, from mcgill.ca: https://www.mcgill.ca/familymed/files/familymed/childhood_and_adolescent_depression.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. US Department of Health and Human Services.
Tannenbaum, E. (2017, May 31). 27 Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Depression, Anxiety, and Mental Health. Retrieved from Elle.com: http://www.elle.com/culture/celebrities/news/g29945/celebrities-depression-anxiety-mental-health/?slide=15