I’m not a psychologist. I took one psychology class in high school, and that’s the extent of my formal education on the subject (though I did get an A). However, I have had depression for much of my life, and I believe that my experiences have granted me some level of authority on this issue.
There are many myths surrounding depression, and misconceptions lead to ignorance and stigmatization, which in turn leaves those with depression to suffer in silence. It’s through raising awareness that I wish to ease the burden on those who, like me, have struggled with this much misunderstood illness.
Myth #1: Depression is no different than getting “the blues.”
Depression is a much bigger deal than the blues. We all have bad days and experience sadness and disappointment on occasion, usually in reaction to an upsetting event or a personal loss. But depression is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, and while the blues can last a day or two, depression can last a lifetime.
Symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions, constant feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness, loss of interest in things you once loved, and thoughts of suicide. Physical symptoms include fatigue, restlessness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, persistent aches and pains, headaches or stomach problems, and weight gain or loss due to altered eating habits.
Myth #2: You’re able to just “snap out of it.”
An illness of any kind is not something you can snap out of. You wouldn’t tell someone with arthritis or fibromyalgia to just snap out of it, would you? If it was that simple, no one would choose to suffer.
No one can control those chemical changes in their brain, and it is certainly not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many don’t seek help because they feel guilt or shame at not being able to snap out of it. I was pretty scared of asking for help, and making that first appointment with a therapist remains one of the most daunting tasks I have ever undertaken. But it was worth it in the end, of course.
Myth #3: It will go away on its own.
That’s what I thought. I went without help for seven years, hoping it would go away eventually, but instead it became steadily worse. I quit my cutting habit for years at a time and then relapsed twice before I got better. If you take the chance that it will go away on its own, there’s no telling how low it will drag you down. That’s not a chance worth taking.
Myth #4: It only happens to weak/poor/disadvantaged/etc. people.
Like other illnesses, depression does not discriminate. While external factors such as financial issues and socioeconomic status can contribute to depression, it can strike the well off and the privileged as well. Doctors have also found that some families may have a genetic predisposition to it.
Myth #5: Depression is limited to a certain age group (teenagers, the elderly).
Depression is never normal for any particular category of people. It’s true that hormones can sometimes make certain teenagers more vulnerable to depression; I was thirteen when I began having suicidal thoughts. But it’s not to be dismissed as a phase or as part of growing up, because depression can persist into adulthood if not treated, and it’s certainly not worth the risk of upping the statistics of teen suicides.
There have been studies claiming that depression is getting more common in the elderly. In some cases, that can be attributed to biological changes in the brain that comes with aging. In other cases, elders may experience certain events that can trigger depression: for example, the loss of loved ones or declining health. Also, many elders grew up in a time when mental illness was a taboo subject, and they learned not to speak of it. It’s not something to dismiss as a part of aging. Anyone who has depression needs help, even if they don’t realize it.
Depression can be hard to understand if you have never had it. But don’t be quick to judge something you don’t understand. It pays to be educated on this issue, because you never know if someone is going to need your help someday. A little information can go a long way in saving lives.
I think if you care enough to take a CPR class to be able to help a friend in need, learning to recognize depression symptoms is not much of a stretch.
- Särah Nour