Despite it being one of the most common mental illnesses, there is still a lot of myths about depression, and how it’s treated.
Unfortunately these myths make up a part of the larger stigma around mental health and mental illness. This stigma is damaging, as it can prevent people from seeking help, and shut down some really important conversations!
So how do we fight that stigma?
The main way is obviously education from professionals.
I am not a professional. However I believe there is value in firsthand experience. As someone who has struggled with both depression and the harm of stigma, I want to share some of the more common myths about depression I’ve heard along the way.
Read on to find the top 7!
Again, please note I am not a mental health professional and this article is written only from my own experience. If you are struggling please consult a professional, or check out some crisis resources here.
1. There HAS to be trauma
Although trauma is a pretty common factor in depression and other mental illnesses, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite.
You might hear this myth about depression in the form of ‘but you had a good childhood’, ‘but you have good parents’, or the more blunt version ‘what do you have to be depressed about, your life is great!’
This is misinformed at best, and incredibly damaging at worst. To give a physical example, this mindset would be like refusing to acknowledge lung cancer in someone who had never smoked. Just because someone doesn’t understand the cause doesn’t mean it isn’t valid!
Another thing to consider on the trauma front, is that everyone, based on their own experiences, has different benchmarks for what they consider traumatic. Something minor to you may be overwhelming to someone else and vice versa!
Invalidating someone’s trauma (or lack of) is an effective way of forcing that person to repress their emotions rather than getting the help they need.
2. Mind over matter
A surprising amount of people believe you can just ‘think’ yourself out of depression, or that it would go away if you just tried harder. Not only is this harmful toxic positivity, it’s just plain wrong!
Although even now we don’t fully understand mental illness, we’ve come far enough to realise it’s not as in the victims control as people used to believe. Of course positivity is important, but clinical depression goes far beyond a bad mood or simple sadness.
Mental symptoms can include irritability, trouble concentrating and losing interest in things. Physically, it can manifest as aches, fatigue and digestion issues. This isn’t an exhaustive list and it can vary wildly between people, but it gives a good idea of how much it can affect daily life.
Overcoming that effect on your life when you struggle with depression is hard, especially when combined with the mental strain of trying to appear fine.
3. People with depression can’t be happy
‘But you can’t be depressed, you’re always smiling!’
This myth about depression is almost a reverse of the one above, but can also be problematic. People with depression have good days too! This doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling, or that they’re faking depression.
A lot of people who struggle with depression, are also incredibly good at putting on a good front. Depression can feel shameful so a lot of people will bottle everything up in public, and only release those emotions privately.
Someone who challenges the validity of someone else’s struggle based on the appearance of happiness, only encourages that repression of emotions, and reinforces that it needs to be hidden.
Remember to check in on people you know, even if they seem fine!
4. Everyone experiences it the same way
Depression can present in many different ways, and two people who struggle may present in completely different ways. The way people process that struggle differs too!
Depression can affect general mood, interest in activities, sex drive, friendships and many other life aspects. However it’s not always spread evenly between the areas it affects or how it shows.
People can also express their struggles in different ways. As in the above point, some people focus their energy on plastering on a smile and seeming fine. Others might channel that energy into anger and start lashing out more, or simply withdraw completely!
No single way of struggling with depression is more or less valid than another.
5. One treatment fixes all
There are many different myths surrounding depression treatment.
The main one, is believing treatment is one size fits all. Treatment can vary wildly depending on personality, severity and other factors. There is no shame in whatever treatment works for you!
For me it took seeing a therapist, then a psychiatrist and a psychologist as well as medication to get a handle on my depression. Other people had equal success without medication, or even without a therapist.
This is why it’s so important to see a professional about treating your depression. You may get well intentioned advice from others who have struggled or just people in your life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the most effective advice for you.
The other thing to keep in mind, is that one thing may work initially, but not long term. Changing or combining treatment is a totally normal process for handling depression, a certain way may not work forever.
6. Treatment = cured
Some people tend to see depression as something akin to an infection – an issue for a short period, but gone and forgotten after a round of antibiotics. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and depression treatment can last months, years, or even a lifetime.
The focus with depression isn’t on curing it, but managing it.
7. You must be weak to struggle with depression
Of all the myths about depression that float around, this one (I believe) is by far the most damaging. Not only does it directly feed into stigma, that attitude will let the person struggling know that they can’t turn to you.
It will also feed in to any self worth issues the person struggling may already be facing, and can create a barrier to treatment that takes a long time to knock back!
I myself faced this myth, both from within myself and the people around me and as such it took me years longer than it should have for me to seek treatment. They were years of stress and pain I could have avoided had I better understood depression!
Nobody chooses depression, but no one is immune either.
A wrap up of myths about depression
I’ve listed 7 common myths about depression here, but this is by no means an exhaustive list! The different myths and misconceptions spread far further than can be listed in a single post.
Thankfully, the further we advance medically and the more we understand about mental illness, the less these myths are spread. However they’re not gone, and the stigma although lessened, still remains.
So what can you do to help stop the stigma and the myths about depression?
Educate! You don’t have to be a professional to share information from reputable sources. Challenge the stigma and the people who are misinformed.
Don’t be ashamed to share your story! You may not feel comfortable to share it in a public way and that’s ok, but don’t let people shame you into silence either.
It’s taken me years to acknowledge that yes I have depression and sometimes I struggle, but that does not make me less of a person. I am still worthy, still enough, and certainly not alone.
Neither are you.