Seven myths about depression
Posted on 12 July 2015
Depression is one of the most common – and sadly most misunderstood – mental health issues we face today. Separate the facts from the fiction and get your head around the truth of this illness.
Myth #1: It’s rare
Depression is actually more common than you might think. Unfortunately, accurate numbers are hard to come by – but South Africa’s largest mental health NGO, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), recently estimated that as many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems. And according to SADAG, 23 suicides occur daily in South Africa and more than 230 attempted suicides are reported. The question is, how many more cases of depression are there that don’t lead to a suicide attempt? And how many cases of depression – whether mild or extreme – go unreported?
Myth #2: It’s the same as sadness
Not necessarily. While many people who have depression do suffer from a crushing sense of sadness, many others feel… well… nothing at all. For them depression feels more like a combination of apathy and emptiness. Also, because depression can sometimes cause extreme anxiety, some people who suffer from depression also feel a constant sense of tension. Depression feels different for different people. It depends on the condition.
Myth #3: It’s always caused by a bad experience
Sadly no – at least, not always. Depression can be caused by any number of factors. Yes, it can be triggered by a traumatic incident or a tough experience (like a bad break-up, losing your job, or the death of a loved one), but it can also be caused by other factors, such as chemical imbalances in the brain. Those imbalances, in turn, could be the result of any number of things: genetics, illness, side effects of medication, or a hormone imbalance (caused by puberty or pregnancy, for example). Of course bad experiences can leave you feeling sad for a while, but the symptoms of depression tend to last longer and reoccur frequently.
Myth #4: It’s not a real illness
Depression is a complex and serious medical condition. It’s far, far more that ‘just a bad mood’. The symptoms of depression are sometimes difficult to recognise and there’s no single simple treatment for it. Research from the Mayo Clinic in the United States found that people with depression have physical differences in their brain, including hormone imbalances. That, if nothing else, is a sign of a real mental illness.
Myth #5: Happy people don’t get depressed
Because one of its many causes is a chemical imbalance in the brain, depression can be completely independent of your environment – in other words, depression can affect anybody, regardless of how fabulous their life is. People don’t choose to be depressed, just like people with cancer don’t choose to have cancer. And telling someone with depression to ‘cheer up’ is a lot like telling someone with a broken leg to ‘fix that broken bone’. You can be happy and still suffer from depression.
Myth #6: It’s all in your head
It’s not just a mental issue. People with depression also sometimes suffer from related aches and pains. Research from the US National Institute of Mental Health found that depression can manifest as fatigue, insomnia, changes in appetite and chronic muscle pains.
Myth #7: Just pop a pill and you’ll be fine
Antidepressants are a common treatment, but they’re not the only treatment. In some cases psychotherapy works just as well – and many doctors recommend a combination of treatments, using both medication and therapy.