Depression: Debunking the Myths

When talking to others about depression, we’re often greeted with a range of responses. Some of these responses are helpful and supportive, others are less so.

Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions and myths surrounding depression. We asked our community to share those they’d encountered so we could ‘myth bust’ them.

Myth: Depression is a choice.

Commonly presented as: “You can’t just cry when I feel like it, you have to learn to control it”
“You have a choice, just choose to be happy”
“Just don’t be depressed? It’s not that hard?”

Fact: Depression is not a choice. It is a real illness with real symptoms. We don’t want to be depressed, and are unable to choose to be happy (as much as we might wish we could!).

Myth: There is always a reason for someone’s depression.

Commonly presented as: “Why are you depressed?”
“You’ve got a roof over your head and a loving family and great friends, you have nothing to be depressed about.”
“You’ve just got a lot going on, when things settle you’ll feel better.”

Fact: There is no ‘one’ single known cause for depression. It is thought that stressful life events, family history, personality, loneliness, alcohol or drug use, and illness could all contribute to it; often it will be a combination of factors. We may not know exactly what has caused our illness – it’s something that can take a lot of hard work and support to figure out and work through.

Myth: Other people have it worse, so you can’t possibly have depression.

Commonly presented as: “Think of the refugees fleeing Syria, they’re far worse off than you”
“People have it so much harder than you, be grateful; you’ll feel better when you realise what you have”

Fact: Someone else’s suffering doesn’t alleviate or invalidate our suffering. Our pain cannot be turned off with a switch.

Myth: You can’t work and have depression.

Commonly presented as: “But you have a career?”
“How can you be depressed you always come into work and laugh and talk to people?”

Fact: Some people’s depression will prevent them from working, but many people who have depression also work, and we work in all sorts of fields. Around 1.5% of workers have experienced some form of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. Sometimes we might need a little more support to help us stay in our jobs, but with the right help and support, we can have successful careers.

Myth: Your fashion choices dictate whether or not you can be depressed.

Commonly presented as: “You dress too well to be depressed.”
“You look like you’re out of a fashion magazine so you must be doing well.”
“You present yourself very well for someone who claims to be depressed.”

Fact: People with depression wear all sorts of different clothes. Just like the rest of the population, we will sometimes have pyjama days, sometimes live in jeans, and sometimes dress up to go out for the evening. Our illness doesn’t dictate the clothes we are allowed to wear, and the clothes we wear don’t show how ill we are.

Myth: It’s immediately obvious when someone has depression.

Commonly presented as: “But you’re such a positive person and always smiling!”
“How can you be depressed when you make jokes all the time?”
“You don’t look ill, you look fine to me”

Fact: People with depression look just like anyone else. We don’t have a special “look” or way of acting. We can smile, laugh, wear make-up, use public transport, do a weekly food shop – we present just as people without depression do.

Myth: Medication is a magic fix… or shouldn’t be used at all.

Commonly presented as: “You’re taking pills so you should be fine now.”
“You are hooked on antidepressants, why don’t you come off them”
“Medication doesn’t work at all”

Fact: Medication is a tool that can be used to help manage depression. For some of us it’s helpful, for others it isn’t. Often we will need some form of talking therapy alongside our medication. Some of us might choose not to take medication at all and prefer alternative treatments, but the choice of whether to take medication should be down to the individual, and nobody should be shamed for their decision.

Myth: Fresh air and exercise cure depression.

Commonly presented as: “Get some exercise; go for a walk, it will clear your head.”
“How can you be depressed on such a beautiful day?”

Fact: Nature can help when we have depression. So can exercise. However neither are a magic cure, and everyone is unique, so something that might really help one person, might not help another at all.

Myth: There is a simple ‘fix’.

Commonly presented as: “It’s because you’re not busy enough!
‘”Drink lemon water”
“Have you tried baking a cake?”

Fact: As much as baking a cake is a lovely idea, and might be a nice way to spend an afternoon, it’s unlikely to cure depression. There are many things that could help depression, such as talking therapies, medication, or time, but there is no magic cure and different people will need different treatments at different levels.

Myth: A relationship will cure your depression…so will being single.

Commonly presented as: “You need a get a boyfriend, that’ll make you happy.”
“You’re engaged, you should be happy.”
“You’re single you have no husband, kids and mortgage to worry about.”

Fact: People in relationships can be incredibly supportive of one another, which could help with alleviating certain depressive symptoms, but depression doesn’t only affect single people, or only target people in relationships.

Myth: You can’t be depressed if you’re young… or if you’re old.

Commonly presented as: “You’re too young to know what mental illness is, let alone have it.”
“We didn’t have therapy in my day, talking is for your generation.”
“You’re too old for this.”

Fact: Depression can happen to anyone at any age. Around 1.4% of 11-16 year olds are seriously depressed, as are around 2% of adults aged 75+ have diagnosed depression.

Myth: If you have depression, you can’t have any friends.

Commonly presented as: “How can you be depressed when you have so many lovely friends?”
“How can you be depressed when you’re so sociable and extroverted?”

Fact: It can be much harder to maintain friendships when we have depression, because it can result in lack of energy, and also in memory problems which can mean that we sometimes forget to reply to texts or messages, but that doesn’t mean that having depression and having friends are mutually exclusive; friends can be incredibly important in helping us to stumble our way through depression.

Myth: If you have depression, it means you’re selfish, ungrateful or attention seeking.

Commonly presented as: “You’re being ungrateful”
“Just stop being so selfish and you might feel better.”
“I bet you’re just pretending for attention”

Fact: People with depression may well ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that they’re attention seeking – they’re usually care seeking. We may sometimes come across as being selfish or ungrateful, but that’s likely to be our illness, not us.

Myth: People with depression just need to ‘be more positive’

Commonly presented as: “You just need to think about happy things.”
“Smile, that will make you feel better”
“Just stop dwelling on it and you’ll be fine”

Fact: Doing enjoyable things, or putting positive messages up on our walls or fridge might help us to feel better, but though there are a number of things which can help depression, it’s unlikely to be cured through the power of positive thinking alone.

Myth: Depression has a shelf life.

Commonly presented as: “How can you still be depressed. Surely you must be better by now?”
“You are always ill! How can you still be ill?”

Fact: For some of us, the length of time we live with depression might be a few months, for others of us it might be a few years, or even longer. The average length of a depressive episode is 6-8 months, but around 80% of us will have a depression recurrence at some point in our lifetime.

Myth: Depression isn’t serious.

Commonly presented as: “Depression is the mental health equivalent of a mild cold.”
“Depression isn’t cancer, it’s not going to kill you.”
“It can’t be that bad, everyone gets sad sometimes.”

Fact: Depression is serious, and can be life-threatening: the highest rates of suicide are associated with depressive disorders. Those of us living with depression deserve help and support. These ‘myths’ are unhelpful (and dangerous) because they invalidate what is a very serious illness and prevent those in need from reaching out for the help they so desperately need and deserve.

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