Depression is something 1 out of every 10 Americans will experience at some point in their life. However, many ignore or misunderstand the signs of depression because of the myths and stigmas that surround the disorder. And the fact that some people often do not take it seriously and chalk it up to being incredibly sad, of course, doesn’t help our case.
Depression is a diagnosable mood disorder with a variety of signs and symptoms. It is, therefore, a real illness and is in no way a sign of weakness as some would believe. The disorder gets a bad reputation in the media, and so many find ‘facts’ about the illness that are far from the truth. So, we will debunk some widely believed myths about depression right here, right now.
1. An online depression test can determine if you are depressed
With one quick search, you can find dozens of tests and questionnaires online that claim to identify signs of depression. However, the truth of the matter is that no test can accurately detect depression. There are depression tests such as the Beck’s Depression Inventory, which evaluate symptoms but cannot definitively diagnose the illness. While makers of online tests may mean well, these tests incubate incorrect information and misconceptions. Only medical professionals can diagnose the disorder and advise you on whether or not you need treatment.
2. Sadness equals depression
Everyone feels sad from time to time, and it is perfectly reasonable to be ‘bummed out’ after a major disappointment or some tragedy. For example, if you bombed a major exam you thought you’d aced, or if your significant other of three years recently broke up with you, it’s okay to be overwhelmed with negative emotions. However, depression is more than simply feeling sad. Depression interferes with a person’s normal functioning and affects their everyday life. Just as it is possible to be sad without being depressed, it is also possible to be depressed without being or appearing sad.
Persistent sadness is only one of the many prevalent depression symptoms, including feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, a loss of interest in hobbies, problems with concentration and memory, restlessness, and a change in appetite. Depression does not just entail ‘sadness’ or feeling blue. Generally, as part of a diagnostic criterion, depression symptoms must persist consistently for at least two consecutive weeks.
3. A cognitive imbalance is the cause of depression
Some argue that a chemical imbalance in the brain causes the disorder. While we know that there are changes in the brain’s chemistry that are congruent with depression, scientists cannot precisely pinpoint what causes the illness. Experts believe that those with clinical depression have lower levels of a particular neurotransmitter in their brain. Some depression medications work to counteract possible chemical imbalances in the brain, but these are not “cures.” Therefore, while an imbalance may be a part of the story, we’re missing a huge chunk of the plot.
4. If your parents are/were depressed, you will be, too
While you may inherit genes that make it more likely for you to become depressed, this does not automatically mean that you will be more liable to develop severe depression. With one parent suffering from the disorder, a person’s chance of also experiencing it does increase to 20-30%. This means that depression can be hereditary but also means that having family members with the illness is not to say that you are next. In this case, your genes are not the only determining factors because there are environmental ones at play.
5. Laziness causes depression
No, depressed people cannot just snap out of it. Recovering from depression is not as simple as just not being lazy and plucking yourself out of bed. This is where much of the negative stigma related to depression comes from. With depression symptoms, such as lack of energy and motivation, it is easy for others to say that sufferers need to “just put more effort into life.” With depression altering the person as an entire entity, it is not the fault of the patient if they have no interest in daily activities and find things hard to do.
6. Depression is not a real illness
This widespread and damaging stigma about the disease stems from ignorance and misunderstanding. Hence, it is so important to set the record straight and share the truth about depression. It causes a person’s brain to function differently and can affect the body as well as the mind. Depression can cause muscle aches, headaches, and back pain along with other physical symptoms. Therefore, the thought that depression is ‘all in your head’ is just not accurate. Blaming those suffering from the disorder can make it that much harder for them to seek and respond to treatment and make a recovery. It is, therefore, important that people take signs of depression seriously.
7. If you’re depressed, you laze around feeling sad
A Google images search for ‘depression’ is a compilation of pictures of people in the fetal position looking gloomy. This is by far the most popular depiction of depression in the media today which gives people a somewhat false impression of the illness. There are, in fact, different types of depression that can impact patients in a variety of ways. Some people may experience fatigue while others may not have such low energy levels. Some may feel extreme sadness while others may just feel restless or guilty. Depression does not exhibit itself with a few typical symptoms.
We also cannot decide that a person is not suffering from it just because they are still able to carry out their everyday life activities. Just because someone with depression does not look like a stereotype does not mean that their illness is not legitimate. Remember, there are various types of depression, and even the same type of depression does not exhibit itself the same way in two different individuals.
8. Medicine cures depression
Many people will need treatment to feel like themselves again. This treatment may include depression medications which often increases levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain to improve mood and energy levels. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that these meds will work. As a matter a fact, they can even often have undesirable side effects. However, treatment can also include behavioral therapy which can help persons replace negative thoughts with healthier ways of thinking. Therefore, a depression diagnosis does not mean that you have to live on depression medications forever and does not stop you from exploring other treatment options.
The Take-Home Message
If you are experiencing depression, know that you are not alone. Open up to those around you who love and care for you and seek help from a healthcare professional. If you know someone who is going through this challenging mood disorder, offer them emotional support. You do not have to fully understand how they are feeling; they just need to know that you are there for them. Most importantly, help them seek professional help if necessary.