Depression is a very serious mental illness and, tragically, far from uncommon. An estimated 16.2 million American adults suffer from depression, and mental illness is also quite common among children and teens.
Still, depression remains widely misunderstood. To some, depression is synonymous with feeling sad, though that’s largely an incorrect assessment. Others view depression, other mental illnesses, and the treatments that they require as signs of “weakness.” The false “cures” and serious stigmas that these misconceptions create can be very dangerous.
With that in mind, we teamed up with experts in Washington, DC and beyond to create this piece dispelling depression myths and explaining the truth about this serious mental illness.
Depression isn’t just about feeling sad
Many of us use “depressed” as a synonym for “sad.” That’s not necessarily an incorrect use of the word, but it’s important to understand that we use a different definition of depression when we talk about clinical depression.
To be clear, many depressed people feel sad a lot of the time. But sadness is usually understood to be temporary. Depression, unfortunately, is a long-term problem. What’s more, many people with depression don’t get sad in quite the way that many outsiders assume. While some depressed people get emotional and cry a lot, others feel empty, hopeless, frustrated, and even bored.
These feelings are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain — physical things that are very real. Telling a depressed person to “just cheer up” is useless and perhaps even dangerous. Saying something like that trivializes a very serious condition and encourages depressed people to feel guilty about their condition, as if it is their fault. While being proactive is a big part of treating depression, it’s crucial to understand just how hard it is for depressed people to take important treatment steps. It is effectively impossible for them to “just cheer up” on their own.
Seeking treatment is necessary and often effective
The stigma that surrounds mental health issues and their treatment is unfair. When we call depressed people, or mentally ill people “crazy” or “weak,” we spread lies that make it harder for those suffering from such conditions to get better. When we joke about visiting psychologists or psychiatrists, or when we suggest that people who do so are weak or insufficiently self-reliant, we discourage the one thing that is most important for fighting depression.
The reality is that seeking out the help of a trained and certified mental health professional is absolutely crucial for fighting depression, not to mention a whole host of other mental health issues. You are not trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses in yourself. Your friends are not trained for any of this, either. Only a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist is equipped to help you.
Experts tell us that depression therapy is among the most effective treatments for clinical depression. In therapy, you’ll be able to examine how you feel, what you think, and the patterns that govern those thoughts, those feelings, and their associated behaviors. You’ll gain real strategies for identifying and counteracting negative thinking and self-destructive behaviors.
Other mental health professionals can help, too. Psychiatrists, for instance, can prescribe medications that help many people cope with depression and related issues. For more information, you should talk to your primary care physician about your options and getting a referral.
Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Just as you’d treat any other aspect of your health, you need to address your mind. Find the courage to do so, and you’ll be on a path to a happier and healthier life.