Avoiding Common Misconceptions About Depression
We live in a time of growing awareness about mental illness and about depression in particular. Thanks to public information campaigns and some famous people speaking out about their own struggles with depression, the condition doesn’t have the stigma it used to have. It wasn’t so long ago when people would go to great lengths to keep their depression a secret, even from family members. They certainly wouldn’t want to admit they sought help for depression. However, this stigma has caused a lot of needless suffering. What’s more, depression is a major risk factor for developing a substance use disorder. The following are some persistent myths about depression.
Depression is the same as sadness.
Depression is often thought of as severe sadness, but depression is actually something very different. It’s true that some symptoms of depression, such as low mood, fatigue, or crying for no apparent reason, look a lot like sadness, but there’s much more to depression. For one thing, depressive symptoms must persist for at least two weeks for a clinical diagnosis. That’s a long time to be sad. Also, a depression diagnosis requires several symptoms to be present from a list that includes low mood, inability to feel pleasure, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, poor concentration, sleep disturbances, irritability, and thoughts of suicide or death. Low mood–or sadness–and inability to feel pleasure must be among the symptoms for a depression diagnosis, but they are not sufficient.
Another problem is that many people don’t primarily experience depression as sadness. Some people are more bothered by irritability, disturbed sleep, poor concentration, or headaches but may not describe themselves as feel especially sad. These other symptoms of depression are very common, but if you’re focusing on sadness, you might not recognize depression for what it is.
Depression is all in your mind.
Depression has many symptoms we would describe as mental or emotional, but that’s only part of the story. For example, sleep disturbance is one of the most common symptoms of depression and it has been linked to a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm–a complex orchestration of hormones that regulate your sleep cycle and other metabolic processes. As a result, you may wake up at three a.m. feeling like someone just blasted an air horn or you may have trouble falling asleep at the end of the day.
Also, recent studies have linked depression and inflammation. If you’ve ever had a bad cold or the flu, you probably experienced many symptoms common in depression, such as fatigue, poor concentration, poor sleep, aches, loss of interest in things you normally enjoy, and withdrawal from friends and family. It turns out that many people with depression also have elevated markers for inflammation. The general idea is that some stressful situation may cause your body to prepare for an injury or infection that never comes. You get the inflammatory symptoms of illness without the actual illness. However, people with inflammatory illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis often experience depression too.
Depression is a sign of weakness.
The stigma that persists around depression is largely based on the assumption that depression is a sign of weakness. The idea is that you can’t handle pressure, or rejection, or whatever other nasty thing life throws at you. As noted above, more and more research is finding there is a physical basis for depression. We wouldn’t think someone was weak for having the flu so depression should be no different.
Depression is best treated with medication.
For the past 30 years or so, medications, especially SSRIs, have been one of the primary methods used to treat depression. However, ubiquitous TV commercials and public service messaging have given many people a mistaken view of how effective SSRIs are. They do help many people, but they appear to be most effective for more severe forms of depression. They don’t seem to offer as much relief to people with mild or moderate depression. For many people, psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective. More and more studies are also finding that healthier lifestyle choices such as regular exercise and a diet rich in fiber and nutrients can also play a strong supporting role in depression treatment.
You’ll have to be on medication forever.
If medication is part of the treatment plan, you won’t necessarily have to be on medication for the rest of your life. Some people, especially people with severe depression, may have to take medication forever, but for others, it’s enough to get their mood under control and give give the cognitive behavioral therapy a chance to work.
Medication is just another form of addiction.
The idea that taking medication to control depression is just another form of addiction is a misconception you often hear in 12-step circles. Drugs and alcohol are often coping mechanisms for people with depression, so some people see antidepressants as an extension of that. However, that’s not really accurate. SSRIs take a long time to start working–typically about six weeks–and are designed to boost your serotonin levels up to where they are supposed to be. Many people do feel happier, but it’s not at all like the temporary euphoria you experience with drugs or alcohol. Most importantly, if the medication helps keep depression under control, it also strengthens your recovery.
Everyone experiences depression occasionally.
If you think everyone experiences depression occasionally, you’re probably thinking of sadness. About seven percent of Americans will have a depressive episode in any given year, and an estimated 20 percent of Americans will have a depressive episode in his or her lifetime. That’s a lot, but it’s a clear minority. Everyone experiences pain, disappointment, and grief, but most people don’t experience depression.
Depression is caused by traumatic events.
Depression is often caused by traumatic events, but it doesn’t have to be and most traumatic events don’t lead to a depressive episode. Events like abuse, divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one can sometimes lead to a depressive episode. Sometimes, if several of these things happen over a period of a few years, depression can become cyclical and return for no apparent reason. Other people develop depression for purely physiological reasons without experiencing anything especially traumatic.
Hart Consultants helps customize wrap-around treatment and transitional care programs for families seeking support for recovery from addiction, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions. Working with some of the country’s most trusted and renowned treatment programs, our team strives to ensure successful, stress-free recovery for the whole family. We coordinate with every member of a loved one’s treatment team to provide communication, progress, and healing. For more information on our services, call us today: (844) 262-7970