This article was prompted by an interview that was recently shared in the personal development circles on Facebook. The person interviewed was a psychologist who claimed that depression almost never happens, that pharmaceutical companies make people dependent on antidepressants, and generally, four out of five drugs do not work at all. While that woman might have been competent in her line of work (which was not clinical psychology), the claims she made in the interview were simply bollocks.
That is why I thought it may be a good idea to debunk some myths concerning depression. Perhaps it will encourage some of the readers to seek help before it’s too late.
Myth 1: Depression is mainly an invention of pharmaceutical companies that want to stuff us full of drugs. Everybody feels low sometimes, and you shouldn’t make a disease out of it!
I agree that pretty much everyone feels low sometimes. Sadness has a role to play in our life. It is a signal for us to withdraw and regain our strength. This does not, however, change the fact that at any given moment about 10% of our society has symptoms of depression, and within our lifetime about 50% of us will experience it. What is more, many of the afflicted are young people (teenagers) and the elderly, which makes proper diagnosis more difficult.
The good news here is, this data shows that one can overcome depression, often even without professional help. It does not mean, however, that they shouldn’t seek this help. The sort of interventionless recovery may cost a lot. It can cost your time, your enjoyment of life, your relations with people and life opportunities. Sometimes it can carry with it the highest price, that of life itself, leading people to suicide (it’s important to remember that the suicide of one person also increases suicide rates among their family and friends).
True enough, we should not mistake depression for an occasional low feeling, the “autumn blues”. The thing is, no competent psychiatrist will make that mistake. In spite of the stereotype, such specialists really do not jump at any opportunity to stuff their clients with drugs. Of course, there might be some pathological cases, but those are individuals. They are not the rule. A competent psychiatrist will usually send the patient to psychotherapy, applying pharmacology (medication) only when the need occurs.
Myth 2: Depression is a result of laziness and luxury. If people had to bloody work their asses off, they wouldn’t have time to be depressed.
There is a grain of truth in this statement. Indeed, historically people didn’t used to have time to take care of themselves when they experienced depression. They had to fight to survive, while suffering from the affliction. This resulted in higher rates of “accidents” (suicides, actually) or various unhealthy strategies of problems management (such as alcoholism). Countless people suffered quietly for years. Many of them were classified as lazy, evil, or worthless. Nobody bothered with concepts like depression.
However, it does not mean that the disease was less common back then. In fact, it was probably more frequent – because poverty and social isolation are very significant risk factors.
Myth 3: Depressed people should pull themselves together. They’re actually all right if they’d only realize it!
This myth is particularly harmful because it adds an extra layer of guilt to the disease. On top of feeling ill, the depressed person also blames themselves for their lack of energy, weakness, etc. In fact, depression is a serious disorder, both on the mental and neurobiological level. This harsh experience is often accompanied by changes within chemical processes in the brain, such as the decrease in the number of serotonin receptors, structures capable of reacting to the so-called pleasure hormones. A brain of a depressed person might be saying “you’re happy”, but the same brain has no way of hearing that signal. Its receivers have been damaged.
Therefore, just “pulling oneself together” is not enough – professional help is needed here. Be that in the form of psychotherapy (minor depression) or pharmacology (major depression).
Myth 4: Depression is for the weak.
Similarly to myth three, it’s fiction. Surprisingly, the main purpose of this belief is probably to create a sense of safety in the person stating it. “If depression is typical for weak people, and I am a strong person – I’m safe.” Unfortunately, this belief leads to “home-made” ways of dealing with the disease. In most cases, it’s self-medication – self-administration of various stimulants, like alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, to soothe the pain and manage problems. Another form of self-medication is, for instance, seeking comfort in food, particularly in the form of sweets (chocolate triggers the production of pleasure hormones).
Depression threatens all people – the strong, the weak, everyone. The real strength lies in seeking help, and the real weakness is in avoiding the problem and pretending that everything is all right.
Myth 5: If the patients take medication, it will cover up their real problem, and they will not want to solve it anymore.
If a person is truly ill, medication will help them function better and gather strength to actually try and solve the problem (that is why in the case of profound depression, treatment starts with pharmacology, and is later supplemented with psychotherapy). Antidepressants will not make the patient blind to the problems in their lives. They will actually help them deal with these issues in the right way. In spite of popular belief, antidepressants do not “numb*” people and they are not “happy pills”, nor do they make people incapable of seeing the problem.
*However, people with so-called bipolar disorder, experiencing periods of depression and periods of mania (hyperactivity, feeling invincible, etc.), might also be prescribed sedatives, specifically for their manic episodes.
Myth 6: What’s the whole fuss about? If someone’s depressed, it’ll hurt and then it’ll pass.
Unfortunately, the consequences are quite tragic for, on average, one ill person out of thirty. Approximately 3.5% of depressed people take their own life (simultaneously, over 60% of people attempting suicide are diagnosed with depression or a similar disorder). The disease also increases chances of other health disorders, such as cardiovascular problems. Considering the fact that suicide is one of the 10 most common death causes, and in some groups, such as young men, it becomes the second or third most common cause of death, it is definitely a good enough reason to highlight this topic, to speak about it, and educate people about depression. And if we suspect that someone we know struggles with it – it is crucial that we encourage them to see a physician or a psychotherapist!
Depression is a serious issue – do not ignore it and do not let others ignore it!