By Brooke McMillan, MA, PLMFT – There are a lot of myths about depression floating around, we took a look at 7 of the most common and misconstrued statements about this mental health struggle.
Myth 1 “Help means I will have to be on drugs for the rest of my life”
Asking for help does not necessarily guarantee your doctor will advise medications. Although some people with depression will take antidepressants for many years in order to manage their symptoms, it is important to keep in mind that treatment plans are made on a case-by-case basis. Doctors typically use a combination of antidepressant medications and therapy to combat depressive symptoms. Studies suggest that psychotherapy may work as effectively as drugs for mild to moderate depression. While it can take time to find the right combination, most people manage to treat their depression successfully through conventional means.
Additionally, individuals who take medication to treat depression often come to a place where they work with their doctor or mental health professional to slowly start titrating off of their medication dosage. This method of tapering off is common practice once a person’s symptoms have become manageable or life circumstances have eased. Because of the risk of withdrawal effects associated with certain medications, it is important to point out that it is not safe for people taking antidepressants to suddenly stop taking their medication.
Myth 2 “Depression only affects women”
While women are diagnosed with depression at roughly twice the rate of men, there is growing evidence that depression is significantly underdiagnosed in men. A depressed man himself, his loved ones, or even his doctor may not initially recognize the presenting symptoms to be depression. Although the symptoms used to diagnose depression in men are the same as in women, men cope with depression differently than women. For example, men are more apt to engage in reckless behavior and turn to drugs and alcohol. Medically, men often report more physical symptoms than women such as backaches, chest pain, headaches, and digestive problems. It is also noteworthy that men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than women.
Myth 3 “Depression is not a real illness”
Depressive disorder, frequently referred to simply as depression, is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It is a mental health condition that requires understanding and medical care. Many people are not aware that depression actually affects the physical structures in the brain. These physical changes range from inflammation and oxygen restriction, to the brain actually shrinking. Depression’s impact on the central control center of the nervous system can lead to issues with brain development, learning, memory, and mood.
Myth 4 “Depression is a natural part of aging”
Adolescence can be an emotionally, socially, and physiologically difficult time. Behaviors associated with adolescence such as oversleeping, irritability, anxiety, etc. can be similar to symptoms of depression. While occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected during the teenage years, depression is different. Depression causes an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger. Depression is not a normal part of growing older. When assessing a teen with irritable mood, it is important to determine if the irritability is significant and part of depression, or if it is more developmentally appropriate as part of adolescence.
In the same way, depression is not a natural symptom of old age. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, studies show the majority of older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only around 1 to 5 percent of older adults living outside of care homes and hospitals experience depression. While the rate of depression is elevated in elderly individuals who reside in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and hospice care, this is a small subgroup of 6.4 percent, which is not a proper representative of older adults as a whole.
That being said, serious medical conditions faced by seniors such as cancer, heart conditions, and Parkinson’s disease can give rise to depression. Some medications for serious health conditions can also cause side effects that increase the risk of depression. Other factors that could be a catalyst for depression include the loss of a loved one or loss of meaningful work.
Myth 5 “Different races are more prone to mental illness”
Studies show that all races and ethnicities are affected by the same rate of mental illness. There is no single race more or less susceptible to having a mental health condition. However, for some people, culture may influence how they interpret symptoms of a mental health condition preventing them from getting help. While the rates are the same, it is important to highlight the awareness of mental illness in varying minority groups, as these groups are often times overlooked in the potential differentiating outcomes of mental illnesses.
Genetics certainly play a role in the development of depression, alongside a combination of other environmental, psychological, and biological factors. We are all vulnerable as a result of multiple risk factors including genetics, biology, environment, and life experiences. There are a number of risk factors for depression, some of which are modifiable such as level of education, employment status, work stress, and job security. Fortunately, there are also protective factors such as being married, level of income, adult achievement and sense of mastery, and perceived social support. Having the knowledge of modifiable risk and protective factors can inform prevention and intervention programs designed for specific cultures.
Myth 6 “If you can function you must not be depressed”
We live in a society that values a perceived perfection, leading us to believe that doing things “perfectly” leads to happiness and success. For this reason, it may be a surprise to many that there is a significant connection between depression and perfectionism. Stressful situations can be difficult for all people, not just those who live with mental illness. People with mental health conditions have jobs, go to school, and are active members of their communities. Many employees can and do work, and are just as productive, while experiencing symptoms associated with mental illness. Some of the world’s most successful people that challenge this myth are Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Patton, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking.
Myth 7 “Pray it away”
Positive thought, religion, and spirituality are powerful ways we can nurture our souls, which are important aspects of a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. However, incorporating these practices into our daily lives should not be the only form of treatment. Our brains are the most important organ in our bodies and can become sick just like our heart, lungs, and liver, and should be treated in the same way by a professional.
As an illustration, diabetes and depression both involve changes to the endocrine system. If you know someone who is having flare-ups with their diabetes, you know not to tell that person to simply “pray about it.” Hopefully “pray about it” is followed with stating “go see your doctor.” A mental health condition can be just as serious as a physical one, so we must be proactive with our treatment of managing and treating both physical and mental illnesses. The most effective treatment someone can receive is one that is planned, in collaboration with their licensed health provider and themselves.
It is important to understand that depression does not have to be “a life sentence.” Resources and support do exist, and it is up to each individual to work through their personal discomfort and vulnerability to reach out for support. A good starting place could be to reach out to your primary care physician or confidential employee assistance hotline.
This article is meant for information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Individuals should consult their health care providers to discuss health risks and preventative measures.
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