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Whether you’ve suffered from depression or not, it’s almost certainly the case that you’ve heard some myths about depression in your lifetime.
Depression is one of the most misunderstood medical conditions out there, and despite the sheer number of people who experience a depressive disorder in their lifetimes, society continues to largely get things wrong about this mood disorder.
Maybe you’re here because a friend or family member — someone you love and care deeply about — has recently admitted to a depression diagnosis, and that news has challenged your existing understanding of what depression is.
Maybe you yourself have been diagnosed with depression and you’re having to come to terms with your own misunderstanding of what depression is — and who gets “depressed.”
Why you’re here isn’t important. The important thing is that you’re open-minded and willing to consider a bigger picture in your understanding of mental health.
We’re here to help you do that, one myth at a time.
But first, you probably deserve some background context on why so many people get depression wrong in the first place.
Depression myths — and myths about pretty much any other mental health condition, for that matter — come from fear and a lack of understanding. The less people know about something, the more they fear it and the more likely they are to make up misleading explanations to fill the void.
We know this behavior as something called “stigma.” Stigma can be a sort of blemish or mark on something or someone, and with depression and mental illness, those stigmas wrongly suggest a variety of things.
Depression stigma exists today (and myths fill the void in the lack of understanding) because there are still many things we don’t understand about how mental illness works.
For instance, we still lack fundamental details in our understanding of what causes major depression (also known as clinical depression). And while we know that it can come from a variety of triggering sources, there isn’t a clear picture of how these sources flip the power switch in our brains from the “Off” position to “On.”
As a result, you can find stigmas and resulting myths pretty much everywhere in our society. Media depictions of mental illness can paint a portrait of dangerous or evil people with mental health issues.
But the opposite is true, too: while some people who are visibly depressed may be unfairly stigmatized for their disorder, people who hide their depression or exhibit different, not-so-physical symptoms may be incorrectly told they’re “fine” or that they aren’t depressed.
With misinformation and misrepresentation swirling, it can ironically be that the depressed person is the one in danger — and there are many sources of that danger to worry about.
Depression myths are dangerous because they put people with depression in more danger, plain and simple.
It’s perhaps most obvious when you look at the question of stigma—the negative associations with depression and other disorders that people fear lead fewer than half of people with a mental illness to come forward and ask for treatment or support.
And for those that do come forward, they often avoid or delay those types of care because they’re worried about losing their jobs, loved ones, livelihoods, friends and everything they value.
And then there are the myths that support that stigma. You’ve probably heard, internalized or even said some of these things in the past. And that’s okay. We’re here to learn, after all.
Understanding what is myth and what is truth is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones or even those strangers who might otherwise be harmed by our poor understanding of mental health.
So, what are these common depression myths, and why do we believe them? Well, let’s look at the list to explore answers to those questions.
People love a success story. But just the same way you can’t actually “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” you can’t just magically pull yourself out of depression.
Depression isn’t something you choose, and it’s not something you can choose to undo with a “mind over matter” attitude.
Because depression is the result of many different things — including brain chemistry, lifelong behavioral factors, biological factors and genetic traits — you don’t have much sway over it.
And just trying really, really hard is about as effective a strategy as it is a smart one.
People like when things are explained and we’re able to make perfect sense of them. Which is why it’s very simple for us to say things like, “Well, obviously, this thing happened, so now you have to figure out how to deal with that result.”
Unfortunately, depression doesn’t care what people like, and it definitely doesn’t always need to have a specific cause.
There are definitely situational triggers for depression — traumatic events like a parent’s death or a breakup can trigger a depressive episode. But just because some depression has a clear trigger, it does not mean all depression will.
Perhaps it’s a bit nitpicky in the scope of our other points, but it’s important to understand that seasonal depression isn’t something you can only get in winter.
The factors that affect your mood during season changes aren’t all related to the colder, shorter, grayer days of the year, and while things like dropping vitamin D levels and reduced social or outdoor activities may weigh more heavily on your mental health in the winter, these changes can just as easily affect someone in the other seasons.
So, your friend who seems more down in the summer months may very well be experiencing seasonal depression.
The lesson here is simple: don’t make assumptions. And check on your friends all the time, not just when it’s chilly outside.
One of the most ridiculous things about society’s views on depression is that they often fail to realize that depression isn’t a single state of existence.
Depressed people may not leave their beds for days at a time or struggle to stop crying, but they may also experience a numb, dead-inside emptiness that, while pervasive, doesn’t keep them from meeting the bare minimum expectations at work or at home.
A depressed person who is succeeding at work isn’t “less depressed” — they’re just hiding it better, often as a result of great personal struggle and distress. It’s what society expects of us — to show up and perform regardless of how we feel.
So, if you’re a person who hasn’t fallen behind at work, just know that your depression is still very real. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.
We constantly hear people talk about strength of character or traits like endurance versus laziness. While these may be important indicators of success or reliability, they’re in no way related to a person’s mental health status.
Depression isn’t something you get from not being strong enough any more than broken bones in a car crash are something you get from a weak immune system.
If anything, depression is a profoundly measurable sign of strength — you may climb the mountain more slowly than other people, but you’re also doing it with a greater weight on your shoulders.
To feel hopeless, numb, indifferent, worthless or tired and still get up most mornings and live your life: that says profound strength to us.
You’re not lazy. You need support.
This one is one of the most controversial points we can bring up, and we don’t have enough space to unpack it fully, because even the experts are still trying to do that.
Depression is an extremely complex interaction between your brain, its neurotransmitters, your genes, your individual experiences, your environment and others.
It’s not just “more serotonin good, no serotonin bad.”
Does that mean you should stop taking antidepressants, or that antidepressants don’t work? Absolutely not.
In fact, they’re some of the best tools for depression management we have around today, and there’s a reason why tens of millions of people use them every year to help.
But science is years, if not decades, from having a complete picture of how, where, when and why depression occurs.
The point is, there’s nothing “wrong” with you or your brain if you have depression.
We see this one often enough that it bears mentioning here. Statistically, women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety than men.
But many experts believe that many men avoid seeking treatment. Why does this matter?
Because the sooner society makes mental health a stigma-free place where everyone feels safe and supported in getting help, the better everyone’s lives can be.
Depression shares many of its symptoms with other mental health disorders and even some illnesses. Generally speaking, self-diagnosis is a bad idea because, well, you don’t really know what you’re talking about — yes, even you.
Truth be told, even the best mental health professionals in the game know to avoid self-diagnosis because you cannot see a full picture of yourself (literally or metaphorically) from inside your own head.
That’s why seeking treatment is so profoundly important for everyone — even if you don’t end up having a depressive disorder.
So, why should all of us learn these myths and scrub them from our collective understanding? Because it’s good for us. Because it’s the kind thing to do.
Depression is a cruel condition, and nobody knows that better than a person with a depressive disorder. There are a lot of things about depression that the average person gets wrong, and for the portion of the population that has depression, those inaccuracies and the misinformation that made them happen can be damning.
Supporting, loving and caring for a depressed person may mean completely reframing your understanding of depression. The best way to do that is to confront the myths about depression that you may currently believe.
Stigma surrounds many mental illnesses and mental health conditions, and if you have a depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder or another psychiatric issue that keeps you from being your best, most productive and active self, that stigma may be among the biggest hurdles between you and the life you want to live.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to change minds — that requires all of society to participate.
So, what do you do? Focus on yourself. You can’t control other people, but you can control how you live with and manage your own health. Be kind, be empathetic, show class, engage in civil discourse — destigmatizing mental health starts with you.
Exploring treatment options for depression and other disorders is the right thing for you, even if you don’t end up having depression.
How you find that out is fairly simple. You might see a therapy professional (or connect with one through an online therapy platform like ours). You might talk to a mental health professional (through our mental health resources, for instance). You might talk to your general practitioner or another healthcare provider for advice.
If there’s one myth we want dispelled, it’s that suffering and struggling to overcome depression is something you have to do alone.
Bust that myth. Get help today.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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