I work with people who are suffering from major depression and have my own personal experience with it too. I know the agony and the pain, the one that is so invisible to others. Whilst depression is not the exact same experience for everyone, there certainly is a sense of shared pain and understanding amongst those with firsthand experience.
But I also talk to lots of people who tell me that they just don’t understand why their friend, family member or colleague can’t just get over “their” depression. They truly mean well but just simply cannot comprehend what is going on for them. They want to help yet don’t know how.
And really, how could you blame someone for not understanding what depression truly feels like if they’ve never suffered themselves? Even if they live with someone who’s going through it, it’s still not the same as having experienced it yourself. I certainly wouldn’t be able to get it if it wasn’t for my own story.
In this post, I want to share 10 myths about depression that we still need to debunk. For the people who want to understand but struggle to do so. And also for the people who are suffering from depression right now. So let’s get this straight.
10 myths about depression that we should really get over now
Here we go, in no particular order (because they’re all important to mention).
"Depression is a reaction to how bad things are in your life"
Sometimes I speak to my clients and they tell me things like “I don’t want to tell others about how I feel because they’ll think I’m ungrateful for the amazing things I have in my life.” or “Others will ask me how I can possibly be suffering from depression given where I live, what I do and the wonderful family I have.”
There is this belief that depression is something you are almost choosing to have. You feel that others will judge you for it. You feel that others will think badly of you because they perceive your life as amazing.
“How could you possibly not to be happy given all that you’ve got?!”. “Others have it far worse than you!”
Suffering from depression doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for your kids, your spouse, a roof over your head, food on the table etc. You are aware of these things. Depression doesn’t make you an ungrateful person.
"Depression is not a real illness"
If everyone started treating depression as a real illness, things would be so much better for us all.
Depression is in fact so much of an illness that it carries a high risk of suicide. And suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK. This statistic doesn’t apply to women in this country but then again more women suffer from depression and anxiety than men.
Depression is real and in many ways dangerous. It should be treated seriously and certainly not brushed aside as something you can just snap out of. Or something that is just in your head.
And just to add from personal experience, severe depression is the last thing I’d ever wish on anyone. Nothing is more painful than being tormented by your own mind.
"It's in your head"
Depression isn’t just in your head. You actually feel all sorts of physical symptoms too – and no you don’t make those up.
Debilitating fatigue, insomnia, aches and pain all over your body, gastrointestinal problems, skin problems, changes in appetite to name a few.
Then there are psychomotor symptoms of depression whereby cognitive ability and physical movements slow down. Slowed speech, sluggish or diminished body movements, a slowing down of your thought processes.
Getting up from a chair or out of bed can become a very slow (and difficult) process. Your voice might become very monotonous and your reaction time might slow too so you find yourself dropping things all the time or not catching something quickly enough.
These symptoms are not just in your head. They are real and very much physical symptoms that others can notice too. Again, it’s an illness and you’re not making it up.
"It's a sign of weakness"
"Once depressed, always depressed"
This one isn’t true either. Again, no two people experience depression in exactly the same way.
If you’re currently suffering from it, then your thoughts are likely telling you that you’ll live with this for the rest of your life.
Or perhaps you live around people who still believe in the previous myth, i.e. depression is a sign of inherent weakness. If that’s the case, you might be getting a lot of messages that there is indeed something wrong with you and that you will suffer again in the future.
But the truth is, nobody can claim that the all the various contributing causes of depression are fully understood. We simply don’t know all the answers. If we did, why would this devastating health condition still be so incredibly widespread?
But what this also means is this: Just because you’ve suffered from it once or you’re suffering from it now, doesn’t mean you’ll do so for the rest of your life. It has started once at some point so can’t it end as well?
"You must have had an unhappy childhood or traumatic experience"
Sadly and tragically, a lot of us have had traumatic and upsetting upbringings. Or perhaps experienced trauma in adult life. And yes, these are a risk factor for the development of mental health “disorders” later on. Things that should have never happened in the first place.
But on the other hand, suffering from even severe depression does necessarily stem from upsetting upbringings or catastrophic events in your life. I think this is such a big myth that makes a lot of sufferers without major traumatic experiences feel very guilty.
I had a perfectly happy upbringing and still suffered from major depression in my early twenties. Don’t just assume there’s a trouble past behind every person struggling with depression.
"You know why you're depressed"
Often you don’t know why you’re feeling so low and depressed. And this not knowing can make things worse because again, you feel that there’s something wrong with you. Or that you’re going mad.
Sometimes in hindsight you can identify what has caused you to feel the way you did. And in most cases I’d argue that it’s multiple factors.
But if the way you are feeling emotionally and mentally is incomprehensible to you, then you’re not alone. Sometimes there are physical root factors at play. Perhaps you have a genetic predisposition and other factors in your life might be enabling this to play out in your life.
Again, nobody fully knows all the answers to 100%.
But it’s very harmful to give a sufferer the impression that they must know why they’re feeling so low, so should consequently get on with solving those issues to feel better again.
"You're not trying hard enough"
Tying in with the above, there’s often this belief that sufferers of depression aren’t trying hard enough to get better.
If only people knew how much unbelievable effort is required of somebody who’s battling severe depression to do the mundane everyday tasks, such as getting out of bed, taking a shower or preparing a meal.
"You're depressed because of a chemical imbalance in your brain"
"The opposite of depression is happiness"
Lastly, a lot of people believe that happiness is the opposite of depression. And I just don’t think that’s true.
Personally, I’d say the opposite of depression is aliveness and this sense of loving life. A sense of “joie de vivre” – a cheerful enjoyment of life, an exultation of spirit.
If you are currently suffering from depression and want to work on getting better with someone who’s been on that journey herself, then do just get in touch.