With depression rates on the rise, it is essential that we as a society destigmatize the illness and clear up some common misconceptions about it. The worldwide depression count currently sits at 332 million people. For reference, that’s more people than the entirety of America which has a population of 327.2 million. There’s a very good chance that you or someone you know has depression; therefore, the condition should be taken seriously because it has personal relation to you and the people you hold dear. By understanding the common misconceptions of depression, you have the potential to become better equipped with vital information which could help alleviate some of the suffering of the world, or at least learn enough to avoid making it worse through negligence.
Misconception #1: Depression means to be sad all the time
The common consensus of how I’ve heard the majority of people describe depression is to say that it is a constant state of sadness. Eeyore in the flesh, if you will. While this is technically correct, it’s about as good of a definition as a “person in a white coat with a stethoscope around their neck” to describe a doctor. Sadness is merely the tip of the monstrous iceberg that is depression. Sadness can sometimes (not always) be a symptom of depression, but its not an ample description of the illness. So, what is a better way to describe depression?
Simply put, depression is a constant state of hopelessness. It is a psychological “parasite” which eats away at a person’s overall mental health. Usually resulting in a serious lack of drive and ambition which can make simple tasks such as getting out of bed or brushing your teeth seem as difficult as running a marathon. A great way to describe depression is to imagine having the capability to only see storm clouds even on the sunniest of days, and when you try to do anything productive, the rainclouds pour down hard on you. No matter how much you try, the rain just gets stronger. In conclusion, sadness is often a result of depression, but is too shallow a word to describe the complex psychological condition that is depression.
Misconception #2: Someone with depression can “cheer up” if they try hard enough
Even when spoken with good intent, “cheer up, buddy.” Is the kryptonite of a depressed person. Believe it or not, this phrase will make someone with depression feel even worse. It’s the equivalent of telling a blind person to “watch where you’re going” if they accidentally bump into you. If they could use their own force of will to climb out of the hole that is their mental illness, 10/10 people suffering from depression absolutely would. The fact of the matter is, clinical depression is a biological illness resulting from a chemical imbalance in the brain. There is no known cure for depression as of yet, only methods of treatment and sheer willpower is not one of them. Instead of telling a depressed person to cheer up, pay them a compliment or tell them you are genuinely happy to see them. Small acts of compassion go a long way for a depressed person.
Misconception #3: Being depressed is the same as having depression
Being depressed and having depression share a lot in common. They often have similar symptoms, feelings, and even intensity. But the two terms are not interchangeable, they each mean something different. For instance, while you cannot have depression without being depressed, you can be depressed without having depression. three important differences sperate the two. Cause, duration and treatability. We must look at each term individually to be able to understand how they differ.
An otherwise mentally healthy person who experiences a period of being depressed will usually have a reason for their plummet in mental health. An overbearing amount of stress, mental burnout, financial struggles, a break up or divorce, getting fired, unresolved traumas of the past, insecurities, and a plethora of other causes could be contributing factors in a person becoming depressed. It could be one or a combination of reasons, but there are usually discernable reasons which lead to the mental decline. Although a person can remain in a depressed state of mind for a long while, spanning weeks or even months, it is not permanent. ‘Depressive episodes’ can even occur in multiple waves throughout a given time period if the sufferer does not properly treat the symptoms as they present themselves. This leads to the final variable: treatability. A person who does not have depression, but is going through a depressive episode may see dramatic results and even the “curing” of the depression through treatments. Treatments such as seeing a therapist, making peace with the past, changing financial, spatial, or relationship situations, exercising, healthy eating, and taking small, habitual actions toward the betterment of the mind will usually result in a gradual improvement of mental health and eventual eradication of the depressive symptoms.
Depression, more formally known as “clinical depression” is a diagnosable illness by a psychiatrist. The cause of depression is very different than an average person who is depressed. Depression is the result of chemical imbalances in the brain which are inherited through genetics. Unlike a person going through a ‘bout’ of depression, someone who has been clinically diagnosed with depression will usually have it for most or all of their lives. There is no definitive cure for depression, there are only treatments for it. Anti-depressants, therapy, and other treatments for the illness can definitely be effective, but they only act as a buffer of sorts to stave off the symptoms of the sufferer. Treatments can often put depressed people in periods of remission, but it never fully goes away.
Misconception #4: A depressed person wants to be left alone
Depression usually yields seclusion. Being alone feels good to someone struggling with their mental health because it requires the least possible amount of effort. Even simple every day functions like communication can be a major hurdle for a depressed individual. Though they may be brief or unresponsive in their communication, it does not mean that they do not appreciate and absolutely need your company. A random text to check up on them means the world because you might be the only person who has even cared to talk to them that day. The more a depressed person pulls away, the more they need someone to reach out to them. If you suspect someone has depression, be careful as not to confuse their brevity and cold behavior with irritation or lack of interest. Even when they try to push people away, they are unknowingly going against their built-in human necessity for socialization and connection. Isolation is the enemy of a healthy mind. There’s a reason solitary confinement is the worst form of punishment for prisoners. We should all work toward being inclusive of, and reaching out regularly to people with depression. Especially the quiet ones.
Misconception #5: It’s easy to spot a person with depression
Given how severe symptoms of depression can get, it definitely makes sense that you should be able to easily pick a depressed person out of a crowd. Unfortunately, the reality just isn’t so black and white. People are very good at hiding what they are feeling on the inside, and most put on a facade in order to conceal their inner suffering. Day in, day out millions of people go about their lives without a single person knowing they are suffering beneath the surface. Some are better than others at hiding, however merely looking at or talking to a person is not a good gauge as to whether they are depressed. Most people with depression don’t want others to know about their illness, because they feel like a burden and don’t want to drag others down. Although this couldn’t be further from the truth, many depressed people tragically carry it with them to their grave. Given the fact that it is very difficult to spot a person with depression, we should strive to be kind to everyone always. You never know who is suffering behind the curtain.
So, how can you determine if someone is depressed?
- Pay attention to their ambition and energy level. Depressed people often lack motivation to go out, work hard, exercise, or do any activity that requires even a small amount effort.
- Ask them how they are really feeling. Everyone has an automatic response of “good!” when asked “how are you?” so to find out how someone actually feels, you must be vulnerable with them first so they will share about themselves as well.
- Listen for words that are self-sabotaging or overly pessimistic. Sure, many people make self-deprecating jokes, it’s an expanding niche category of humor. But a depressed person will rarely speak positively at all. You can spot the difference between a jokester and someone who is depressed by the frequency and tonality of the pessimism.
- If they are tired all the time, even after sleeping 8+ hours per night, it’s a good indication of depression.
The bottom line:
As with any widespread phenomenon, the more significant an issue becomes in the world, the greater its database of information, research, and understanding grows. Alternatively, the same can be said for falsified information spread by word of mouth, inaccurate assumptions, and hazy intuition on the subject. Depression is no exception. The 5 misconceptions covered in this article, if eliminated from public knowledge, provides the potential to make the world a place of less misery for us all. Now that you are equipped with a greater understanding, the responsibility is in your hands to spread the truth about depression and call out these false “facts” whenever you see them.