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11 Common Myths & Misconceptions About Depression

by -

young woman sitting in a field looking hopeful at the sky

What do Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Hawking, Michelangelo and Winston Churchill all have in common? Not only are they some of the most noted people in history, but they also dealt with depression. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S. The latest figures from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported more than 21 million people in the U.S. had an episode of depression in 2020. 

Signs & Symptoms of Depression

  • Loss of interest in things you enjoy, such as work or hobbies
  • Low levels of motivation, energy or fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, angry, irritable, anxious or empty of any feelings
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Thoughts of suicide

There are countless stigmas and misconceptions about depression. Therapist Lori Ohrt, MSW, LISW helps us debunk 11 myths of depression to identify what’s true and what’s not, and begin helping you, or a loved one, start to heal.

Myth about Depression #1: It’s all in your head.

Depression is a psychological, social and biological disorder. It’s chronic and takes treatment to manage. Someone who’s depressed can’t just shut it off. The public often only sees the emotional side of depression, like when someone acts out or doesn’t act like themselves. Our bodies and minds are very connected. When we’re emotionally distressed, like with depression, we can physically feel sick. The same is true for the opposite. When we’re physically sick, we can, emotionally, feel like a wreck.

Myth about Depression #2: It’s only brought on by a traumatic event.

A life event, like the loss of a loved one, triggers feelings of sadness, loneliness and emptiness in everyone. When you lose someone, the grief process isn’t instant, so that’s normal. Those who deal with depression are more likely to experience the same type of feelings for long periods of time and more frequently. A traumatic event does not cause depression, but it may heighten an already existing issue in someone who deals with it.

Myth about Depression #3: Medication is the only way to manage it.

Medication is one type of depression treatment. Therapy is another option, and research shows cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially effective in helping people with depression. CBT focuses on identifying and working on thinking patterns, emotional responses and behaviors for better day-to-day functioning. Generally, the combination of antidepressant medication and CBT are most effective in treating depression. Many people will try different combinations of treatment before finding one that works.

What is Therapy?

Therapy includes talking one-on-one with a licensed professional who listens and guides you to develop your own goals and find your own answers. Therapy can also occur in groups or couples.

Therapists work to identify the things in your life that impact your depression and help you to understand how to improve those issues. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition, you can go to therapy. It’s a great place to talk through ideas or feelings you don’t want to talk about with anyone else. Therapy can be whatever you want and need it to be.

Myth about Depression #4: It’s a normal part of life.

Depression doesn’t have to be a normal part of life, and those who deal with it don’t have to make the journey alone. Get the help you need, so you can start to heal. Depression is also not a normal part of getting older. Even though your life goes through many changes, feeling depressed doesn’t have to be permanent.

Myth about Depression #5: If you have a family member with depression, you’ll have it, too.

Research indicates as much as 50% of major depression has a genetic component. However, remember, that’s only a 50/50 chance. Overall, it’s a combination of genetic and external life experiences that determine if depression surfaces. Those who have family members with depression may have a better understanding of the signs and symptoms, leading to a more likely chance of discovery. Researchers are currently doing genome mapping to find the best medication to treat different kinds of depression.

Myth about Depression #6: It looks and feels the same for everyone.

There’s no one-size-fits-all experience for depression. That’s a serious stigma our society must overcome. Just because depression looks and feels one way for one person, doesn’t mean it looks and feels the same for everyone. Those who experience depression may have physical differences in their brains. The changes in the brain, plus hormonal changes, can influence the severity of moods, thoughts and physical displays of depression.

Myth about Depression #7: Only women get depressed.

The prevalence of depression in women is higher than men, but not by much. According to recent NIMH metrics, a major depressive episode was higher among adult females (10.5%) compared to men (6.2%). It’s not that there isn’t any depression in men, it’s just that most men don’t talk about it as often as women. Some men may avoid treatments for depression in fear they’ll no longer appear masculine or strong. Some signs of depression in men are different than in women. Along with the signs above, here are other symptoms of depression:

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Men

  • Feeling angry
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, like sex
  • Fatigue
  • Not able to remember details
  • Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Aches, pains, headaches, cramps
  • Inability to meet daily responsibilities

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Women

  • Feeling guilty
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Fatigue
  • Not able to remember details
  • Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Aches, pains, headaches, cramps

Myth about Depression #8: Therapy is not for Black Americans.

Therapy is for anyone and everyone. It can be for someone who is struggling with something difficult, or people who needs to bounce ideas off someone they don’t want to share with in their day-to-day life. Just because someone is having mental health issues, doesn’t mean they’re “crazy.” You can seek help beyond your pastoral care without stigma. There are increasing numbers of Black practitioners and most therapists, regardless or race or ethnicity, strive to provide quality and culturally sensitive services to all people.

Myth about Depression #9: It’s the same as feeling sad.

This is a big misunderstanding. Feeling down or sad and being depressed are two different things. Depression can be brought on by feelings of sadness but feeling down doesn’t last as long as an episode of depression. Depression can last from a few weeks to an entire year. Unlike sadness, it usually doesn’t go away on its own. People with depression have many other emotions other than feeling sad. They may feel anxious, tense, empty or other negative emotions. Depression also doesn’t go away with time or encouragement from friends and loved ones like sadness does.

Myth about Depression #10: It’s not a big deal.

Clinical depression is a serious condition that causes those who suffer from it to withdraw from loved ones, take dangerous risks or even start conflicts with others. It requires treatment to manage and overcome. Depression can also lead to thoughts or actions of a suicidal nature, which makes it a very big deal.

Myth about Depression #11: It’s a sign of weakness.

Depression does not discriminate, and nobody decides to be depressed. The only reason depression is viewed as a weakness is because our society has stigmatized the condition. Depression is a biological and psychological condition that has nothing to do with how strong you are.

You don’t have to manage your depression alone. Start by reaching out to your primary care doctor to find out what sort of mental health support is right for you.

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