Feeling Depressed? 10 Misconceptions You Need To Know

feeling depressed

The recent suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams has once again put the spotlight on the illness of depression.

Although there was an outpouring of kind words and sympathy for Robin Williams and his family, there were a few misguided voices suggesting his suicide was cowardly and selfish.

I think these are the voices of people who have no idea how serious and debilitating depression is. For someone like Robin, who suffered from depression most of his adult life, the mental anguish had become more than he could bear. Ending his life was more bearable than living it.

For those who are feeling depressed, it's often hard to communicate the depths of suffering and pain they are experiencing. Everything looks normal on the outside, and so family and friends often assume the depressed person will just snap out of it. Those with depression will feel shame, guilt and embarrassment about their “weakness” and inability to get over it.

Although there is increasing education and awareness around the illness, there's still a stigma attached to depression that makes it hard for sufferers to be open and seek help when they need it. There are many myths and misunderstandings about the illness that foster a code of unnecessary silence.

Are you feeling depressed? Here are 10 misconceptions you need to know about depression:

1. Depression won't happen to me

Maybe not, but it is one of the most common  mental health problems. According to The World Health Organization, it affects 121 million people worldwide, and 20% of people carry the risk of developing depression during their lifetime. It can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, or race. If it hasn't touched you personally, the odds are high it has or will impact someone close to you.

2. Only emotionally weak people get depressed

Depression is an illness, just like diabetes or arthritis. It has nothing to do with one's character, willpower, or personality. It is a serious medical condition that requires treatment and regular care from a doctor. Depressed people have higher levels of stress hormones in their bodies, and the brain scans show they have decreased activity in certain parts of the brain. Depression does tend to run in families and can be triggered by major life events, both negative and positive.

3. Depression is getting the blues or feeling sad

Sadness is one symptom of depression, but depression is much more serious than a temporary case of the blues or a bad mood. Depression involves an array of emotional, mental, and physical symptoms that last for more than two weeks. (See the symptoms below.)

4. Depression will eventually go away

Depression gets worse and more debilitating if you don't treat it. It requires the care of a medical or psychiatric doctor, often with the support of a licensed therapist. The earlier one seeks treatment, the better.

5. Depression isn't treatable

Actually it is one of the most treatable of all mental health conditions. According to the World Health Organization, around 60- 80% of depressed patients respond well to a combination of medication and therapy. However, treatment and recovery can take make months.

6. Depression is part of aging

Depression isn't a “normal” part of aging. Older people do experience more life events that can trigger depression, such as loss of loved ones, decline of physical health, moving out of a family home, etc. Many older people grew up in a time when depression wasn't discussed or acknowledged, and therefore may feel more shame about admitting their feelings. The highest suicide rate of any age group is men over the age of 65, so seniors should pay attention to the signs and symptoms carefully.

7. Depression only affects adults

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 1 in 33 children and 1 in 8 adolescents suffer depression in any given year. Children have a harder time verbalizing their feelings, and often adults misinterpret the symptoms in children. It's important that parents know the signs in children and take the initiative to look for them in their children.

8. Antidepressants are the only way to cure depression

Medication is an important part of treatment, but antidepressants alone often aren't enough. Depression frequently requires psychotherapy, as well as other supportive activities like moderate exercise, getting regular sleep, avoiding alcohol, a healthy diet, setting goals, and challenging negative thoughts.

9. Depressed people must stay on antidepressants forever

People are often fearful of taking antidepressants because they believe they'll become addicted and can never stop taking them. Depending on your depression symptoms and how you respond to treatment, antidepressants can be stopped after a period of months, while some patients need to stay on medication for years. Antidepressants aren't additive, but stopping them often causes withdrawal symptoms. That's why it's necessary to taper off gradually under a doctor's care.

10. If a family member has depression, you will too

Although heredity is a small risk factor, it doesn't guarantee you'll get depressed. Having no relatives who suffered with depression doesn't guarantee you won't. Regardless of whether or not you have this risk factor, it's important to know the symptoms and can recognize them in yourself if they occur.

Do you know the signs and symptoms of depression? If not, here are the most common:

  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or empty feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you must call your doctor right away. Depression does carry a high risk of suicide, especially if left untreated. If you or someone you know is talking about suicide or death frequently or making remarks like, “It would be better if I weren't around,” take these comments seriously. Call your local suicide hotline or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Feeling depressed isn't something to take lightly. You can't “wait it out” or will it away. It is up to you to take control of your mental health, not only for the sake of your personal quality of life and health, but also for those you love. Those who love you need you to be healthy, emotionally available, and predictable. Don't allow guilt or shame to prevent you from seeking treatment. The most proactive, courageous thing you can do is take charge of your depression and do what needs to be done to feel better.


Have you or someone close to you suffered with depression? How did you (or they) treat it? What thoughts or experiences can you share?

photo credit: Amy Wilbanks

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Comments

  1. Dear Barry,

    Thanks for sharing the straight facts about depression. I especially appreciate point 2, where you identify some of the brain changes or differences that occur in people who are depressed.

    I’ve been close to people who have been depressed. This has shown me that depression won’t go away without treatment. For some people, depression can be more subtle and not so obviously the cause of their unhappiness. I find that more tricky and it is a relief when people seek the professional support they need.

  2. Thank you for putting a real article out there about the illness of depression, I have found the recent spate of articles mis-labeling the blues as depression — and how to pull out of the blues — to be hurtful to those suffering…because it leads depressed people to think that it is just one more thing they can’t do.

    I am glad to see that someone has posted an article about what depression truly is.

  3. I’ve suffered from chronic depression for over 50 years. Psychotherapy and medications help keep it under control. However, for me it is a cyclic type of illness and has its ups and downs. Chemical imbalances are prevalent in my brain, so I have learned to live with it. Reading your articles helps me to concentrate on other things which are much more positive than some of my thoughts. I keep your emails in a folder on my computer and reread them when I need to have something uplifting. Depression kills more people than anyone realizes since the “cause of death” is many times masked by other illnesses. Thanks for publishing this article and reminding us we do have other choices than suicide, which is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

  4. Caron Lambert says:

    It has been good to see all the wonderful articles and support about depression since Robin Williams’ passing. I have suffered with it for probably 35 years. It is debilitating and painful and the lack of understanding is difficult to deal with. Sometimes I want to wear a tee shirt that says “You don’t have to understand but compassion is always welcome.” It has gotten harder to deal with as I have gotten older and the accompanying anxiety is horrible. I really liked how you let people know that it can happen to anyone. I would not wish it for anyone, but I do wish for more understanding. Thanks for this article.

  5. As I sit on my hospital bed an read your article I am grateful that you have posted this information on depression. I tell you its an absolute battle of the mind. I here for a week diagnosis the same. Medication does help. But I also realised that prayer strengthens the mind an soul. It brings calmness an some how I am reassured that the all mighty hears me an I am not as alone as I feel. Many thanks for your article on this illness. To my superiors who think that I am not capable an worthy…I want to say depression is an illness not a choice!!!

  6. If you are suffering from depression, I highly suggest getting the destroy depression system.
    Written by a former sufferer of depression, it teaches a simple 7-step process to eliminate depression from your life once and for all.