Almost every mental illness ends up accompanied by a barrage of myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions that cloud the minds of the populace and ultimately produces muddied opinions of the true threat. Unfortunately, one of the most marginalized and ridiculed conditions is also one of the most common. An estimated 17 million Americans suffer from some form of clinical depression a year, most of whom end up never seeking psychological assistance due to feeling undermined and discouraged by the perceptions of society at large. Because those suffering from depression run a much higher risk of committing suicide or acts of self-mutilation than their comparatively healthier peers, it is absolutely integral to understand the complexities and widespread influence of the disease. Only by making an earnest effort to combat these negative and patently false perceptions can the depressed begin to realize that no shame or weakness lay in their situation, thereby removing many of the stigmas and reservations still undeservedly attached to entering into therapy.
- 1. Depressives are ingrates who lack empathy for real suffering.
One of the most isolating and unjustly prevailing myths regarding clinical depression is that the victims suffer more from a lack of perception rather than a recognized and very serious mental illness. It is not uncommon to hear the depressed speak of instances where friends, family, or another peer try to snap them out of a low point with admonitions like “Just be grateful you don’t have a terminal disease,” and “Maybe if you saw how people lived in third would countries you’d realize you have nothing to complain about.” These statements actually actively harm those suffering from clinical depression far more than they help. Trivializing their very real and very overwhelming struggles serves only to perpetuate already heightened feelings of guilt, shame, and seclusion. Depression’s true nature does not inherently involve a dismissal or ignorance of suffering elsewhere in society, and the implication that victims do not understand the world around them may potentially discourage them to pursue much-needed solace and support. Many of them are eventually led to believe that their anxieties and emotional issues do not matter when stacked up with genocide and cancer and other ills when the truth is that all suffering – no matter the level of severity – must be addressed and quelled if humanity hopes to move forward.
2. Depression is not an illness.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision lists three depressive disorders – dysthymic disorder, major depressive disorder, and depressive disorder not otherwise specified (DDNOS. Major depressive disorder is further subdivided into recurrent and single episode, and from there categorized by level of severity. Along with bipolar disorder, the depressive disorders are lumped under the major heading of mood disorders. Because depression is recognized in an official medical and psychological publication used to diagnose and treat patients, it is considered an illness.
3. Depression is nothing more than sustained sadness.
As a mood disorder, one of the major hallmarks of depression is a persistent sense of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, apathy, and anxiety. However, many physiological symptoms also manifest themselves when suffering from depression. Nausea, headaches, general aches and pains, insomnia or oversleeping, exhaustion, fatigue, and over- or under-eating are all commonly associated with depression. Not surprisingly, these symptoms can lead to major health concerns later on in life if left unchecked. Likewise, more severe instances of depression may result in suicide attempts as a means of finally sloughing off the emotional, mental, and physical torment as well as escaping the judgmental scrutiny of friends, families, and contemporaries.
4. Depression can disappear by just thinking happy thoughts.
The old cliché about terminal illness states, “I always thought it was something that happened to other people.” This statement also sums up how depressives generally understand sustained happiness – it is an emotion exclusively rewarded to everyone else, but forever teasingly dangled in front of them as a metaphorical carrot on a stick. Only the most severe cases of depression do not involve small spurts and instances of joy, of course, but the illness includes far too many emotional, mental, and physical complexities to merely disintegrate with the simple act of thinking positively. Many mistake depression for a case of the more common and temporary “blues” and attempt to approach it as such. Though well-intentioned, this mindset carries the same inevitable side effects as the one which pegs depressives as whiny ingrates. It only addresses one aspect of a much broader issue, thus reinforcing the victim’s lonely feelings of being misunderstood. The best way for a concerned family member or friend to tackle the subject with a loved one is to provide support by encouraging them to speak with a professional therapist. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are all qualified and equipped with the tools necessary to understand and combat depression. If positivity were the only cure, there would be no need to spend the time, money, and resources to train any of them in how to combat the issue.
5. Depression only affects women.
Due to brain chemistry and hormone balances, women are twice as likely to experience depression as men, though men are more likely to commit suicide, develop substance abuse, or physical abuse issues as a coping mechanism. By feminizing depression, society stigmatizes men suffering from the illness as somehow weak or less masculine. As if depression did not carry enough unfounded shame along with it, men with the disorder end up facing double the pressure. With a supposedly enlightened society still clinging to archaic ideals that males ought to display stoicism and women stand as emotional pillars, men with depression oftentimes end up ostracized by peers who do not fully comprehend the true nature of the illness. Externally perceived as effeminate and pathetic, depressive men are far less likely to seek therapy and end up self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or other addictions to curb the anxiety instead. In more extreme cases, some men turn to physical abuse or suicide as an outlet. While stereotypes of masculine and feminine behavior do have a foundation in biochemistry, labeling emotion as solely the domain of women is the root cause of many serious issues regarding men and depression. Breaking down gender barriers as well as promoting an awareness of how the illness manifests itself remains the only real solution to this overarching problem.
6. Depression is a choice.
Like other mental illnesses, those suffering from depression never chose to live their lives swarmed with the mental, physical, and emotional stresses associated with it. This myth forms from similar stock as the ones regarding depression as an ingrate’s condition and belief that a cure lay in only thinking happy thoughts. All three of these falsehoods vastly oversimplify the issue at hand, reducing depression to little more than whining, sadness, and negativity when the reality of the disease is far more intricate and nuanced. The decision over whether or not to pursue psychological treatment is the only choice that victims can actually make for themselves, but the initial onset of the disorder remains entirely beyond their sphere of control.
7. If a parent or grandparent suffers from depression, their kids will too.
No professionals will deny that both nature and nurture play a role in the development of a depressed individual. Genetics does factor into depression, as does body chemistry, environment, and an individual’s psychological profile. Not surprisingly, depressives with parents or grandparents who suffer from the disease as well are far more likely to succumb to it. However, this is not always the case. A child born into a family with a history of depression may not always end up with it. Likewise, a child born into a family free of depression may end up developing the illness later on. Genetics is only one of the many possible causes of depression – its absence or presence does not always indicate that an individual will inevitably display the symptoms later on in life.
8. Suicide attempts are just a plea for attention.
All suicide threats and attempts ought to be regarded with the utmost seriousness. If an individual makes reference to how he or she plans to die by his or her own hand, dial 911 immediately. Statements such as these are not to be taken as petty ploys for attention, but rather as grim cries for help – a signifier that the victim feels so very desperate to free themselves from the bonds of depression that death seems the only viable option. Callously casting aside the suicidal as merely resorting to extreme measures for the sake of a little attention completely belittles and underestimates the true gravity of the issue. They need intense therapy, not pity or eye-rolling condescension. As symptomatic of a much larger problem, suicide attempts must be fully addressed and taken seriously rather than dismissed as little more than histrionics.
9. Depression is a psychosis.
Society as a whole seems to regard all mental illnesses as some level of psychosis, with therapy that both saves and improves lives stigmatized as the resort of the feeble-minded and insane. As per its diagnostic criteria, depression is not considered an inherently psychotic disorder. It is labeled as a corruption of moods, but not always a signifier of mental instability or a detachment from reality. While depression does occasionally operate as a symptom of a serious psychotic disorder, its presence does not always mean the victim fits the psychological profile of an individual with psychosis. Depression usually ends at depression. If a sufferer does not display any other indicators of psychosis, then he or she cannot be considered psychotic.
10. Depression is a result of personality flaws and weakness.
Depression is a result of numerous biochemical, genetic, environmental, and psychological factors entirely beyond the control of the victim. This myth ties in with those touting depression as a convenient excuse for whiny ingrates, the histrionic, and psychotics. Many highly functioning, successful individuals suffer from depression and enter into therapy, become active in raising awareness of the issue, and/or create works of art, literature, and music in order to alleviate the pain. It weakens, but self-control prevents it from becoming a weakness. Like addiction and other mental illnesses, the surest sign of strength and integrity is admitting that there is a problem and actively pursuing healthy treatment. Weakness lay not at all in the diagnosis, but rather in how the victim handles the issues he or she has been given.
In spite of existing as one of the most common mental illnesses in America and beyond, the reality of just how serious clinical depression is remains obscured by the dozens of myths, misunderstandings, and lies permeating society. Spreading the word of the true challenges, setbacks, and struggles that depressives face on a daily basis is the only way to put cracks in these potentially dangerous mindsets. Like all people – mentally ill or not – victims of depression need compassion and understanding if they ever hope to combat their disease. The perpetuation of ignorance and misunderstanding only furthers their symptoms and nurtures shame and guilt far more than it inspires them to seek professional help.