Depression: a few false myths
Despite the fact that depression will be the second most disabling illness by 2020 (WHO, 2012), it still causes wrong beliefs and misunderstandings, interfering with the act of seeking and receiving appropriate treatment.
Let’s look at a few of them.
1. Depression doesn’t exist, we are all a bit depressed
Many people think that depression is nothing but sadness and that everybody can experience it every once in a while.
Well, this is definitely false. Depression and sadness are very different in terms of intensity, duration and the impact they have on our daily lives. While sadness is a temporary feeling, as it doesn't prevent us from experiencing positive emotions nor has it a significant impact on our daily life, depression can significantly account for changes in functioning and mood.
To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks, most days and for most of the time.
Sadness and low mood are only some of the symptoms experienced by depressed people (beside lack of interest in the usual activities, diminished energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, change in sleep patterns and appetite, thoughts of death and difficulty concentrating).
2. Depression is all in our head and it does not have any biological root
Once again, false: nature and nurture interact to trigger and cause depression.
Genetic liability and life events play a role in this. As far as biology is concerned, a specific variation of a serotonin transporter gene seems to increase susceptibility to depression.
Besides, depression doesn't only affect our thinking, but our body as well. Depressed people can experience different changes in their physical habits: some may experience a significantly increased or decreased appetite; some may have trouble sleeping while others may oversleep; some may go through motor retardation as opposed to agitation. This means that depression comes with a varied constellation of several different symptoms.
3. Depression is related to creativity and sensitivity
Since many gifted artists, scientists and musicians of the past suffered from mental disorders, one may tend to believe that suffering from a mental condition relates to being creative and sensitive. Well, this doesn’t apply to depression as a condition. There are so many creatives who have never suffered from depression and conversely, lots of depressed people whose nature is not particularly creative.
4. Depression is always triggered by specific events
Specific events may sometimes trigger depression, such as the loss of a beloved one or a trauma.
As previously mentioned though, nature and nurture intimately intertwine and it’s not possible to pinpoint a single cause of depression.
5. If I start using antidepressants, I’ll be hooked forever
Taking medication for mental health treatment may be scary, because of the possible side effects as well as the fact itself of being on medication.
In the case of depression, depending on the severity of the specific case, a psychiatrist may deem clinically appropriate to prescribe medication. A combination of medication and psychotherapy is often recommended, especially in severe cases.
The length of antidepressant treatment usually depends on the case severity and the number of depressive episodes experienced.
Despite the abundance of false myths, depression is a severe and disabling condition that should never be underestimated.
If you think you are suffering from a depressive episode, consider talking to a specialist to receive appropriate treatment as soon as possible.
World Health Organisation, http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/wfmh_paper_depression_wmhd_2012.pdf
“False beliefs: the current treatment of patients with depression”, Lecrubier Y; Current Psychiatry Reports 2003, vol 5(6): 419-422.