You, or someone close to you, is affected by depression—I’d put money on it. Far from being a condition you only see depicted in tear-jerking movies or read about in heavy books, depression is widespread: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) estimates one in 15 adults each year suffers from depression and one in six people will experience it during their lifetime. Someone you love may be struggling with it, or you yourself may have overlooked the signs. But while it may be common, mental illness still carries a stigma, which means there are plenty of widely believed misconceptions that are harmful for sufferers.
Treating the illness requires addressing it head-on—and that’s pretty difficult when basic truths aren’t understood. Keep reading for some #realtalk about depression, straight from therapists.
Scroll down for the truth behind common misconceptions about depression
Myth 1: There’s no difference between depression and just being sad
Fact: This is of the most pervasive myths about depression. Although sadness is one of the symptoms, depression goes further. According to the APA, sufferers can experience a loss of interest in activities they once loved, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping (or, on the flip side, oversleeping), loss of energy that no nootropic can fix, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty thinking and concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.
“These symptoms also need to impact the person’s daily functioning in a negative way, such as causing problems with the person’s social life or work life,” says Courtney Glashow, LCSW, a Hoboken-based psychotherapist and owner of Anchor Therapy. So while it’s common to feel some of these things from time to time (skipping your pre-work workout for an extra hour of sleep is more than normal), if a combination of the symptoms lasts for at least two weeks and is causing you to miss deadlines or flake on friends, it may be depression.
Myth 2: Depression is situational
Fact: Depression is a serious mental illness and the symptoms can be debilitating, explains Brooklyn-based psychotherapist Aimee Barr, LCSW. When people are sad because they’re going through a tough time, the emotions will come and go as the situation changes. But when people have depression, they experience additional symptoms that are chronic and often caused by a chemical imbalance, says Barr.
When this is the case, telling someone they’ll feel better after they switch jobs, recover from a breakup, or finish a stressful semester is actually doing them a disservice because they may wait for things to get “better” instead of proactively seeking treatment.
Myth 3: Positive thinking will fix your depression
Fact: You can’t stop depression by thinking positive thoughts. “Not all depression is caused by negative thinking,” says Glashow. “Negative thoughts can definitely play a big role in feeling down, but our biology and genetics can also play a role.” Instead of telling someone to “look on the bright side” or “think positively,” instead acknowledge their feelings. The understanding may be the push they need to actually get help.
Myth 4: Medication changes your personality
Fact: “The fear of medication taking away your personality is unfounded. People feel like themselves, just less miserable,” says Elizabeth Cohen, PhD, a New-York-City-based clinical psychologist.
In Dr. Cohen’s experience, medication can also help clients to dig deeper. “When a client is so depressed they have trouble talking and thinking about life from any perspective besides a negative one, therapy can stall out,” she explains. “Medication can often allow the person to tolerate more intense emotions, which is likely needed to move through and out of the depression.”
Myth 5: Talk therapy doesn’t work
Fact: There are multiple types of talk therapy that can be helpful for treating depression, including psychoanalysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and interpersonal therapy. “Being heard by a trained professional and gaining greater insight and awareness into your feelings will always help long term,” says Barr. Doing so can help patients create coping mechanisms; and if they take medication, it’s important to see someone who can monitor their progress regularly.
Myth 6: Taking medicine for depression is a sign of weakness
Fact: There isn’t a stigma around taking antibiotics for strep throat or a sinus infection, yet there is one for psychiatric medication like antidepressants. Of course, there are reasons that someone might not want to take medicine, like potential side effects, but fear of the stigma shouldn’t be one of them. Approximately one in eight adults in the U.S. take medicine that’s prescribed for depression, according to Psychology Today.
Talking openly and respectfully about mental illness can only help sufferers. And remember this always: If you recognize in friends or loved ones signs of hopelessness, reckless behavior, mood swings, or drastic personality changes, ask them how they’re doing—and how you can help.