A Dozen Myths and Facts About Depression
Myth: Hard Work Beats Depression
Depression affects nearly one in six people at some point in their lives, so folk remedies and half-truths about this common illness abound. One such idea: throw yourself into work and you’ll feel better. For a mild case of the blues, this may indeed help, but depression is a different animal. Overworking can actually be a sign of clinical depression, especially in men.
Myth: It’s Not a Real Illness
Depression is a serious medical condition — and the top cause of disability in American adults. But it’s still confused with ordinary sadness. Biological evidence of the illness can be seen in brain scans, which show abnormal activity levels. Key brain chemicals that carry signals between nerves (shown here) also appear to be out of balance in depressed people.
Fact: Men Fly Under the Radar
A depressed man, his loved ones, and even his doctor may not recognize depression. That’s because men are less likely than women to talk about their feelings — and some depressed men don’t appear sad or down. Instead, men may be irritable, angry, or restless. They may even lash out at others. Some men try to cope with depression through reckless behavior, drinking, or drugs.
Myth: Depression Is Just Self-Pity
Our culture admires will power and mental toughness and is quick to label anyone who falls back as a whiner. But people who have clinical depression are not lazy or simply feeling sorry for themselves. Nor can they “will” depression to go away. Depression is a medical illness — a health problem related to changes in the brain. Like other illnesses, it usually improves with appropriate treatment.
Fact: Anyone Can Get Depressed
Poet or linebacker, shy or outgoing, anyone from any ethnic background can develop depression. The illness is twice as common in women as in men, but it may be that women are more likely to seek help. It’s often first noticed in the late teens or 20s, but an episode can develop at any age. Tough personal experiences can trigger depression, or it may develop out of the blue.
Fact: It Can Sneak Up Slowly
Depression can creep up gradually, which makes it harder to identify than a sudden illness. A bad day turns into a rut and you start skipping work, school, or social occasions. One type, called dysthymia, can last for years as a chronic, low-level illness – a malaise that silently undermines your career and relationships. Or depression can become a severe, disabling condition. With treatment, many feel substantial relief in 4-6 weeks
Myth: Help Means Drugs for Life
Despite the buzz about a “Prozac Nation,” medication is only one of the tools used to lift depression. And asking for help does not mean you’ll be pressured to take prescription drugs. In fact, studies suggest that “talk” therapy works as well as drugs for mild to moderate depression. Even if you do use antidepressants, it probably won’t be for life. Your doctor will help you determine the right time to stop your medication.
Myth: Depressed People Cry a Lot
Not always. Some people don’t cry or even act terribly sad when they’re depressed. Instead they are emotionally “blank” and may feel worthless or useless. Even without dramatic symptoms, untreated depression prevents people from living life to its fullest — and takes a toll on families.
Fact: Family History Is Not Destiny
If depression appears in your family tree, you may have an elevated risk yourself. But that does not mean you are certain to develop the disorder. People with a family history can watch for early symptoms of depression and take positive action promptly — whether that means reducing stress, getting more exercise, counseling, or other professional treatment.
Myth: Depression Is Part of Aging
Most older people navigate the challenges of aging without becoming depressed. But when it does occur, it may be overlooked. Seniors may hide their sadness or have different, vague symptoms: food just doesn’t taste good anymore, aches and pains worsen, or sleep patterns change. Medical problems can trigger depression in seniors — and depression can slow recovery from a heart attack or surgery.
Myth: Talking Makes Things Worse
People were once advised not to “dwell on” problems by talking about them. Today, there’s evidence that guided discussions with a professional can make things much better. Different types of psychotherapy help treat depression by addressing negative thought patterns, unconscious feelings, or relationship troubles. The first step is to talk to a mental health professional.
Fact: Positive Thinking May Help
The old advice to “accentuate the positive” has advanced into a practice that can ease depression. It’s called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). People learn new ways of thinking and behaving. Negative “self-talk” and behavior is identified and replaced with more upbeat thoughts and a more positive mood. Used alone or with medication, CBT works for many people.