Understanding depression: 5 common myths debunked

2 November 2023
Rashi Arera Written by Rashi Arera
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Rashi Arera

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Ankita Magdani Reviewed by Ankita Magdani
Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani is a Mental Health Therapist, Career, and Mindset Coach based in Dubai. She...

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“Don’t pity yourself so much.” 

“Your life is good, what are you depressed about?” 

“Just be positive.”

Have you heard these phrases too? Has someone questioned your depression too? 

Worldwide, there are 280 million people who live with depression. In India alone, there are 56 million people who live with depression. 

Despite the number of people who struggle through this disorder, it’s not one that’s well understood. In large part because there are numerous myths that are strongly believed and perpetuated. Here, we break down some of them.

Myth 1: Depression is a mere chemical imbalance

Associating “mere” with depression does not dilute the effects of depression. Depression treatments have increased in the past few years. It’s at a point where the antidepressants sale in India has increased drastically to 41% in 2023. Dr Chirag Parmar, a psychiatrist with the Government Hospital for Mental Health says that these sales reflect, “cases have nearly doubled since 2019.”

Depression is not a “mere chemical imbalance.” Joanna Moncrieff, a British psychiatrist explains, “The term doesn’t make any sense. We don’t know what a chemically balanced brain will look like. People are told that drugs restore a natural balance to your brain. But it’s not true, they create an artificial state. The whole idea of mental distress being caused by a chemical imbalance is a myth sold to us by the drug companies.” 

It’s important to break free of this myth before beginning treatment for depression. Not that chemicals have nothing to do with depression. But they aren’t the only ones responsible as per the currently practiced biopsychosocial model. According to this, mental illness is a complex interplay of biology, psychology, and society around and within an individual. 

This doesn’t mean that antidepressants don’t help. In his research, Associate Director of the Program in Placebo Studies and lecturer in medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Irving Kirsch, found that antidepressants prove to be effective to some extent. 

Myth 2: “Snap out of it” is the magical cure for depression

A whopping 30% of Twitter’s population has a stigmatizing attitude, and thinks individuals with depression should “snap out of it.” This 2014 study by Revley and Pilkington reflects society’s attitude towards depression. 

Depression is a mental health condition and it is a known fact that a depressed individual takes 3 to 6 months to fully be free of depression. These results are possible with the right treatment which must be taken under the care and guidance of mental health practitioners. 

All a depressed individual needs is a little care, acknowledgment, therapy, and monitored treatment. You are not lazy or dazed, you have a problem, which can be treated. 

Understanding Depression- 5 Common Myths Debunked

Myth 3: Depression only takes women victims

“Women are more emotional than men” and therefore are more prone to depression. Of course not. 

A study by the University of Michigan, which had 142 participants, both women and men, showed that emotional fluctuations happened in both genders but are interpreted differently.

There’s also the false narrative that depression is a trait seen in emotionally weak individuals. But the fact is that depression doesn’t discriminate. Anyone, at any age, at any time, can fall victim to depression. 

According to the World Health Organization of the 5% of adults with depression, 4% are men and 6% are women. And, women are usually the first ones to seek help when they feel the need. Seeking help is not for the weak-hearted. Next time you feel consistently down, know that you are not alone and that you can get better with professional help. 

Myth 4: Sadness and depression are not different

If someone says “depression is just sadness” you have to ignore them. 

As per the American Psychological Association (APA) sadness is:

“an emotional state of unhappiness, ranging in intensity from mild to extreme and usually aroused by the loss of something that is highly valued.”

And the WHO defines depression as being:

“characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities. It can also disturb sleep and appetite. Tiredness and poor concentration are common.” 

Allan M. Leventhal, Professor Emeritus at American University, in his research thesis puts the difference between depression and sadness in perspective. He says, “Sadness is transformed into depression as a result of avoidance behavior, which blocks access to lost positive reinforcers.”

Sadness is not the equivalent of depression. However, if sadness persists for over 2 weeks, then it’s time you get help as prolonged feelings of sadness are an indicator of depression. 

Understanding Depression- 5 Common Myths Debunked

Myth 5: The more you talk about depression the worse it gets

In 2013, a case study found talk therapies to be “the most effective” for depression. By analyzing the results from 198 studies, which included over 15,000 adults with depression, and seven different psychotherapeutic interventions, the study concluded that psychotherapeutic treatments have their benefits.

To put it simply, “talk therapy” or “psychotherapy” works. And with therapy being more accessible than before, it’s easier to get appropriate help when you need it. 

One of the biggest benefits of online therapy, for example, is that it lets individuals get support faster, which improves their quality of life. According to a study, which followed the outcomes for over 27,500 patients, online therapy was more cost-effective than any other method.

People’s notions about depression are better than before but there’s still a long way to go. “You are plain lazy”, “it’s in your head”, “you’ll get over it” are just some of the phrases that continue to be used when speaking to a person with depression.

However, by understanding depression and by accessing treatment at the right time we can change perceptions. It all starts with a call. Reach out and you will know that you are not alone.

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