Depression can come in many forms.
When you think about depression, it’s easy to envision a person who is the human embodiment of Eeyore: gloomy, pessimistic, and run-down. But in reality the condition can be much more nuanced than that: people with depression often appear totally fine to outsiders. It’s part of what makes the mood disorder so insidious.
For a condition that’s still sometimes misunderstood, depression is pretty common. In the United States, approximately 16 million adults, or about 6.7% of the population, has coped with at least one episode of major depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Because the condition affects so many people, myths about depression can be harmful. For instance, if a depressed person has misconceptions about the treatment options that are available, and decides counseling is just too big of a commitment, then they may miss out on legitimately helpful treatment. Understanding the reality of depression can help you and your loved ones approach the condition from a better perspective.
To learn more, INSIDER spoke with Debra Kissen of the Light on Anxiety CBT Treatment Center, who is also a member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), who took down some of the most common myths about depression.
Depressed people are disheveled and messy
Depression doesn’t always leave you sprawled on the floor in your own mess.
When a character in a movie or show gets depressed, you can tell with a few different signs. They lie on the couch in a heap, surrounded by layers of takeout containers and junk food. Maybe they endure bouts of hysterical crying while they sit around in the same pajamas for days. This image does not always reflect reality,
The truth is, many depressed people still function pretty normally. Often they manage to go to work and keep up basic dress and hygiene standards, as Kissen explained. Surprisingly, a person who appears put-together and grounded may very well struggle with the feelings of hopelessness, lack of pleasure, and low energy that often characterize depression. Because the condition affects people internally, its effects are not always obvious to others.
Depression affects everyone the same way
Not everyone becomes overwhelmingly sad.
Picture the average commercial for antidepressants. The lead actress wears a sad expression, the outside world is sad, because it’s dreary and rainy outside, and heck, even the dog looks sad. Granted, commercials have to convey a lot of information in a small amount of time, but depression is not a one-note condition.
In reality, depression can show up in a variety of different ways, and a depressed person does not always appear outwardly sad. In fact, depression may even manifest as crankiness or hostility, as Kissen said.
As it turns out, that person you know who gets annoyed by everything – from the brand of coffee you drink to the way the sun shines in the morning — may actually be suffering from depression. Sometimes this diagnosis even surprises the patient.
Being positive will make depression go away
You’re only a pleasant thought away from frolicking in a field. Maybe not.
The belief that depression can be overcome with positivity tends to hurt the depressed person in two ways. First, well-meaning friends and family members often tell them to look on the bright side of life. Although this advice comes from a place of goodwill, depression is not the same as feeling blue or being in a bit of a funk.
Depression has to go on for a certain amount of time, and it involves a level of impairment, distress, and concentration and/or cognitive problems, as Kissen explained. In other words, feeling blue for a couple of days is normal for most anyone. But having trouble concentrating, feeling like your brain is fuzzy, and losing interest in favorite activities for several months on end may point to problems with depression, not just a passing frame of mind. Although a positive platitude might help fight a crummy mood, depression needs more serious treatment.
Kissen also explained that self-judgment — and the expectation that you can just snap out of depression with a little effort — also can make depressed people feel even worse.
“The depressed people then feel guilty over having no reason to be upset because so many people have it worse like they have no right to feel bad because their life on paper is good,” said Kissen. This self-condemnation just makes the person feel weak, dramatic, or unable to cope, and may ultimately deepen the depression.
Taking antidepressants will kill your personality
The right meds won’t erase your personality.
The idea of medication can intimidate a lot of people. But taking it may not necessarily make you feel like you’ve lost your personality and become a zombie, like many fear it will.
“The right medication should be activating and quite subtle,” said Kissen.
The wrong meds can put people in a fog, though, so it’s important to discuss these side effects with the person who prescribes it. Being on the right medication can make depressed people feel more like themselves.
Getting help is a huge, lifelong commitment
Sometimes you just need a quick mental tune-up.
Getting therapy doesn’t have to be a huge, life-long commitment.
“It sounds rather big, dramatic, and heavy for those that are mentally impaired, and really it’s not that. It’s in no way uncommon,” said Kissen.
For some individuals, simply talking to someone objective is all it takes to turn a rough patch around. Getting therapy is not a big deal, but a little outside assistance can help you get through depression more easily.