For a condition that’s quite prevalent among adults, there’s little candid conversation about depression and mental health.
According to a report from the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 7% of adults (or 16 million people) experienced depression in 2012. Yet despite its prevalence, many harmful misconceptions about this illness persist.
Some believe depression is simply fleeting feelings of sadness, while others may stigmatize the idea of taking medication. But in reality, every person deals with depression differently. It’s important to recognize incorrect stereotypes where they exist, because these ideas can hold us back from reaching a deeper understanding of this serious illness and, more importantly, from the cultivation of positive mental health. To that end, here are six myths about depression that we need to put to rest.
1. Happy people can’t possibly be depressed.
Source: Ann Heisenfelt/AP
When Robin Williams committed suicide in August 2014, an act attributed in part to a long struggle with depression, many wondered how a comedian who always seemed in high spirits could have harbored such an illness. But the fact that someone may be the life of the party, have a great sense of humor or simply appear upbeat most of the time doesn’t negate the possibility of depression. As noted by Psychology Today, some people may exhibit “smiling depression” and employ humor as a defense mechanism to mask how they really feel. It may appear that they’re managing life easily, but they’re actually suffering in silence.
It’s equally important to remember, as Scientific American reported last year, that “depression alone rarely causes suicide.”
2. Depression is only dictated by life circumstances.
Life events can indeed influence depression, but the illness is more than being downhearted about a breakup or divorce, job loss, death in the family or another major period of transition. Different people’s depression may be attributed to a variety of factors, including biological differences, brain chemistry, hormones and inherited traits, according to the Mayo Clinic.
3. Talking about depression has to be a downer.
The idea that depression should be an uncomfortable or embarrassing subject is part of why there’s such a stigma surrounding the illness in the first place. Some fear that if they open up with a friend, it’ll lead to social isolation that stems from avoiding any talk about negative feelings. Others may not share it with colleagues or even a physician because they fear being discriminated against or getting fired.
4. People who experience depression aren’t mentally strong.
Having depression does not make a person inherently weak, inferior or lazy. One can be intelligent, great at their profession and even a source of support for others while being treated for depression. Though it’s often complex to navigate, depression is still a medical condition and requires care and empathy like any other. No one would tell an excellent poet with a broken wrist that they’re a terrible writer, or a baseball player with a broken arm that they stink at the game. In both cases, people are coping with conditions that understandably need time and treatment to heal.
5. Everyone with depression takes medication.
Depression can be a treatable illness. Taking antidepressant medication is one option, though others may turn to talk therapy as their primary vehicle for treatment. Still others use a combination of medicine and therapy. Some may find that incorporating healthy habits such as regular exercise and meditation help stem some of the worst symptoms. But treatment is not one-size-fits-all; it varies from person to person.
6. Depression isn’t a real illness.
Depression is very real, and not something random people came up with as an excuse for how they’re feeling. As the National Institute of Mental Health points out, there’s a difference between experiencing sadness for a short period and one’s daily life becoming affected by the symptoms of this illness for several months or years.
That’s why it’s important not to brush off depression as something a person will simply “get over.” Stigmatizing the illness or downplaying its effects won’t help anyone heal. Instead, treat those living with depression with respect and kindness, and carefully consider seeking or suggesting treatment should you or someone you know exhibit symptoms or warning signs. That’s a much more proactive and positive step toward positive mental health.