16 myths about depression

Mental Health

Depression is a condition that negatively affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts, with symptoms persisting for at least 2 consecutive weeks.

In 2017, around 7.1% of all adults in the United States experienced at least one episode of major depression. This makes it one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S.

Despite this, many myths continue to surround depression. This is mostly due to outdated science and cultural, social, and medical conceptions of it.

Keep reading to learn about some of the most common myths surrounding depression, why they are misleading, and the facts to know.

a woman talking to a therapist to debunk myths about depressionShare on Pinterest
A person with depression can experience both emotional and physical symptoms.

Some people discredit depression by claiming that it is not a real medical condition, and that it is some sort of choice or personality trait instead. This is not true.

Depression is a well-established condition that causes both emotional and physical symptoms. In fact, around 63.8% of adults who experienced at least one episode of major depression in 2017 were severely impaired by the condition.

Doctors have also linked depression to a mixture of biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Antidepressants can improve the way the brain uses chemicals that manage mood and stress, and doctors will often prescribe them to help treat depression.

However, antidepressants are not a cure-all for depression, and they do not work for everyone or in every situation. In fact, doctors usually prescribe antidepressants alongside psychotherapy and lifestyle changes in order to help treat depression.

A range of factors can increase the risk of developing depression, including traumatic events such as major life changes, grief, and accidents.

However, traumatic events are a risk factor or potential trigger of depression, not the root cause of it.

Also, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop depression. The condition can also develop when everything in someone’s life seems to be going OK.

Adolescence can be an emotionally, socially, and physiologically difficult time. The symptoms of depression can be similar to the effects of adolescence. These include oversleeping, irritability, pessimism, and anxiety.

Adolescents also seem to experience high rates of depression. An estimated 13.3% of U.S. teenagers aged 12–17 experienced at least one major depressive episode during 2017.

However, depression is not a rite of passage or a biological event that a person must go through to reach adulthood.

Teenagers who demonstrate “typical teenage signs,” especially consistently reduced mood and trouble coping with the demands of school, should seek help as soon as possible by talking to a trusted adult or doctor or by texting TXT 4 HELP.

Many women experience the “baby blues” for a week or two after giving birth, the effects of which usually include mild anxiety, fatigue, and a relatively reduced mood.

Around 15% of all U.S. women experience a type of depression called postpartum depression, or major depressive disorder with peripartum onset, after giving birth. This condition can cause significant depressive episodes.

Researchers believe that postpartum depression develops for a number of reasons, including sudden changes to estrogen and progesterone levels, a lack of sleep, and having a history of depression.

Women with postpartum depression may feel exhaustion and extreme sadness to the extent that it makes it hard for them to care for themselves and their babies.

They may need treatment to prevent long-term complications. In extreme cases, without proper treatment, postpartum depression can lead some women toward harming themselves or their babies.

Learn about how to deal with postpartum depression here.

Cultural and societal stereotypes have maintained the myth that men do not or should not develop depression. As a result of this, many people overlooked male depression for a long time.

Although depression seems to affect women more frequently than men, men do experience it, even if some of the symptoms may be different.

Men might seem angry or aggressive rather than sad, and they may also engage in high risk activities. Men also tend to be less open to talking about their feelings and therefore may be less likely to seek help.

Men with symptoms of depression should speak with a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible to prevent serious complications. Men are also more likely than women to die by suicide associated with depression.

Having a family history of depression is a risk factor for the condition, but it is not a guarantee that someone will develop it.

Genetics certainly play a role in the development of depression, but usually alongside a combination of other environmental, psychological, and biological factors. Therefore, just because a person’s relatives may have experienced depression, it is not a sure sign that they will develop it themselves.

People who do develop depression, however, may find extra comfort and guidance from talking with family members who personally understand the condition.

It is true that some people with depression will take antidepressants for many years in order to manage their symptoms, but doctors very rarely prescribe antidepressants for life.

It typically takes around 2–4 weeks for antidepressants to begin to work. It is important to point out that it is not safe for people taking antidepressants to suddenly stop taking them. This is due to the risk of withdrawal side effects associated with certain medications.

Most people make a plan with their doctor or mental health professional to slowly start reducing their dosage. This tapering off method is common practice once a person’s symptoms have resolved.

Usually, this would be after taking the medication for around 6–12 months.

People used to define depression with a few specific symptoms. These included a pervasive depressed mood, oversleeping, and reduced interest or pleasure in everyday activities.

However, studies now show that people can experience a wide range of psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms during depressive episodes. This means that not everyone with depression experiences every symptom associated with it.

People may also experience or express depression differently based on factors such as age and sex.

This can also affect which treatment is the best option. It usually takes someone a while to figure out which medication or other treatment options work best for them.

Some people used to view depression as a type of extreme sadness or self-pity. This is not the case.

Depression is a diagnosable condition, not a specific emotion or feeling. Unlike sadness or self-pity, depressive episodes cause symptoms that continue for at least 2 weeks and can significantly change how a person thinks, feels, and acts.

Getting the recommended amount of exercise and spending time with family and friends may help reduce some of the symptoms of depression.

However, it is a myth that if someone throws themselves into their work, starts a project, or finds a new hobby it will help ease their depression.

Instead, people may wish to focus on a few of their regular tasks during a depressive episode. They should try to break any large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones and avoid doing too many things at once.

People should also postpone making any important decisions or commitments during depressive episodes, so that they can make clearer, more objective choices.

Many people experience their first depressive episode in adulthood, often somewhere in their 20s or 30s. However, depression can develop at any age.

Researchers now know that even adolescents and children can experience depression, though the symptoms may be very different. In children, for example, depression may manifest through symptoms such as irritability and severe anxiety.

A lot of people associate depression with being sad or withdrawn. Although it is true that a depressive mood can make someone appear sad, not everyone experiences depression in the same way or shows the same signs.

For example, men with depression may appear more angry or aggressive than sad. Many people also try to hide or discredit their symptoms, especially men. On the other hand, children and adolescents with depression may experience severe anxiety and irritability, rather than a reduced mood.

Learn more about the hidden signs of depression here.

In older adults, serious medical conditions such as cancer, heart conditions, and Parkinson’s disease can give rise to depression. Some medications for serious health conditions can also cause side effects that increase the risk of depression.

However, depression is not a natural part of aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only around 1–5% of older adults living outside of care homes and hospitals experience depression.

Still, older adults with chronic health conditions or signs of depression should speak to their doctor about how to reduce their risk of depression or treat it. Doctors can sometimes miss the symptoms of depression by mistaking them for a natural response to severe illness.

A myth persists that talking about depression can make it worse, largely because of the stigma associated with mental health conditions. This is not true. In fact, people with depression should try to discuss it, as many will need a form of outside help to start feeling better.

People with depression can try to talk to someone they trust, such as a nonjudgmental friend or family member or a healthcare professional.

Several types of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can also help treat depression, including:

When combined with psychotherapy or medication, making certain dietary changes can sometimes reduce the symptoms of depression.

Several supplement manufactures claim that their products can help treat depression. Few of these have scientific backing, and some of these may actually cause serious health conditions, especially St. John’s wort, which can cause negative interactions if a person mixes it with antidepressants.

Other unproven popular natural supplements for depression include:

  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • S-adenosylmethionine
  • valerian

Although some studies suggest that these supplements may help with depression, the evidence is inconclusive. People considering taking herbal supplements should first talk with their mental health prescriber.

Despite being a very common recognized condition, there are still many myths and misconceptions surrounding depression.

As researchers learn more about depression, and as societal, cultural, and medical perceptions about it evolve, these misconceptions are disappearing.

As new research continues to highlight just how complex, common, and pervasive depression is, even current understandings of depression are likely to change.

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