Nobody Understands: Myths About Depression

There are so many myths about what depression “is really like,” partially because it doesn’t take one single form. Because it affects everyone differently, people don’t tend to have a full understanding of what it can look like, or how it can be helped.

When others try to make you feel less-than for your symptoms, clap back with some cold, hard facts.

What People Get Wrong About Depression

Often, we don’t understand each others’ experience of depression, because it takes different shapes and has different causes for each person. We want to clear up some common misconceptions about depression — most of which stem from people thinking their personal experience speaks to everyone else’s.

Myth: “Depression is not a real medical condition.”

Tony Stark’s done with your misconceptions about depression…

Some people strongly believe gravity isn’t real, too. Their enthusiasm doesn’t make them right.

Depression is a real, empirically-validated, debilitating condition that affects around a quarter of Americans at some point in life. The American Psychological Association (APA), National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), Veterans’ Administration (VA), Mayo Clinic, and every other major medical entity all recognize depression, anxiety, and a host of other mood disorders as diagnosable medical conditions.

These entities recognize depression symptoms as worthy of research and physiological interventions, like medication. And their research has unveiled lots of information on the biology of depression. Among other connections, depression has been linked to an under-active prefrontal cortex (in charge of conscious control) and an over-active amygdala (in charge of reacting to negative emotions). This doesn’t differ too much from diabetes stemming from altered function in the pancreas.

We already know from experience, but the science says so, too: depression changes your brain, your body, and your life. Depression is real.

Myth: “Depression always has a clear cause.”

Depression can be triggered by trauma, genetics, inflammation, etc., but the picture is never one of clear causation. Even when the cause is clear, it’s often uncontrollable. Like seasonal affective disorder (SAD): SAD is shown to occur most often during the winter months, as a result of decreased access to natural sunlight. But if you didn’t pick up on that connection, you’d say you felt depressed for no clear reason. And the jury’s still out on why people get hit by SAD.

People with depression desperately want not to feel lazy, and they are often their own worst critics.

So, next time someone says they might be feeling depressed, remember than even little, imperceptible factors have the potential to cause depression symptoms – it can creep up insidiously when you’re not even expecting it.

Just like you can develop a medical condition unprompted, the same can happen with depression and other mental health conditions. You are never at fault for your depression, you can’t be expected to prevent depression on your own, and you don’t owe anybody an explanation for your depression.

Myth: If you’re depressed, you’re also lazy.

It’s more like: depression zaps your energy, so you can’t do the things you want to. You then feel guilty, shameful, or hopeless about the things you didn’t achieve, which zaps more energy. Then you may have physical trouble accomplishing your goals. Then you feel even more tired, and the cycle continues.

People with depression desperately want not to feel lazy, and they are often their own worst critics. But there are biological and cognitive constraints that make it hard to live life when you are depressed, independent of your own efforts. People with depression aren’t any more “lazy” than anyone else.

Misconceptions About Treating Depression

All kinds of depression treatment myths exist. Those without up-to-date information may believe that depression is “all in one’s head,” is easily controllable, or can be treated with simple positive thinking. Those with no sense of treatment methods or belief in personal growth may say the opposite: that depression can only be a lifelong affliction, with no room for growth or improvement.

As most things do, depression treatment falls in shades of gray. You can’t snap your fingers to stop your depression, but there are evidence-based treatments that do make a difference in the lives of many.

Read on for some common misconceptions about treating and recovering from depression.

Myth: “If you want to get better, you will.”

Wrong. There are many things that effort alone cannot accomplish. Curing a biological disorder is one of them.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that a depressive mood can last for months or even years, and all modern conceptions of depression acknowledge that this is not a personality defect or a choice.

Do what you can, but don’t force anything. Making changes is hard. Planning for change alone is its own accomplishment. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake.

You wouldn’t expect anything from your friends and family besides them doing the best they can. In the same vein, if you are trying, then you deserve respect, care, and patience from yourself, too.

Myth: If you take a step everyday, you’ll heal in no time.

Original gif: Sarah’s Scribbles. Tiny steps are better than none. Celebrate!

More like two steps forward, one step back. There is no straightforward path to alleviating depression. It may get worse before it gets better.

Prepare yourself for the worst of it, remember where you’ve been, and don’t forget what your goals are.

Celebrate every time you take a step closer to your goals. And when you fall a step back, remember that it’s not your fault. Setbacks happen even when we try our best. Regardless of what actually happens, be proud of the effort you make — always.

Myth: Depression treatments don’t work.  

Though depression doesn’t have an easy cure, therapy, medication, and peer support have been shown to effectively alleviate symptoms.

Many feel like depression meds don’t help, and the side effects can be unbearable. Yet there are several different classes of depression medications, and even medications within the same class can vary considerably. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial-and-error to get it right.

Though many feel discouraged with how long therapy can take, it has been shown to be at least as effective as medication. There are lots of different types of therapy, such as mindfulness-based therapy, behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and more. Read up and see what might work best for you.

And for those that don’t have access to medicine or professional therapy, there is still good news. Recent research has suggested that other (more accessible) methods of treatment — such as online support, smartphone apps, and self-help books — can also be effective in treating depression.

What To Do With These Facts

We’ve learned some undeniable truths, here:

  1. Depression is real, complicated, and difficult to live with.
  2. It does not have an easy fix or a setback-free path.
  3. Depression can be alleviated with time, effort, and forgiveness.

Start small. As much as you can, set yourself up for success – even if it means a sacrifice in the short-term.

Dishes piling up in the sink? Use compostable plates for a while.

Have an unhelpful friend in your space? Tell them you’ll reach out when you’re ready.

Feel lonely or bored? Set a weekly standing date with a supportive friend so you have something to look forward to and some routine to fall back on.

Focus on improving your own quality of life, and distance yourself from achievements or benchmarks involving other people. This process, journey, battle — it’s yours alone, and other people have no right to tell you how it “should be.”

It’s OK If Nobody Understands

Sometimes nobody understands — this can even include ourselves or other people with depression. A depressed mood sometimes makes us quick to negatively judge ourselves and others.

Be patient and understanding with yourself. Try your best, but don’t force it; and trust yourself regardless of what anyone else thinks. Depression is hard to deal with and hard to treat, but once you get down to what is (and isn’t) true, you can work from a place of knowledge and confidence.

And, as always, you can visit Supportiv to vent about what depression is really like for you, specifically.


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