With more than 16 million American adults suffering a depressive episode every year, there’s a good chance you or someone close to you will be affected. Public awareness of depression has spread in recent years, but some misconceptions still persist. Here are some of the most important ones.
Depression is just sadness.
It’s true that persistent sadness is a common symptom of depression, but depression is not only sadness. It’s normal to be sad sometimes, especially when something sad happens. However, sadness doesn’t usually last very long. To be a symptom of depression, you have to feel sad most of the time for at least two weeks. However, you can also have depression without feeling particularly sad. Other symptoms of depression include persistent fatigue, irritability and anger, sleeping too much or too little, slow movements, poor concentration, muscle aches, and thoughts of death or suicide.
You can “snap out of” depression.
There’s a common belief that if you’re depressed, you’re wallowing in despair and you just need to get out of your own head. That may be true for normal boredom or angst, but saying someone should snap out of depression is like saying she should snap out of the flu. It doesn’t work that way. We’re learning more all the time about the physical basis of depression, including factors related to genes, the immune system, brain trauma, and mitochondria. As for the mental factors contributing to depression, if someone knew how to stop thinking negatively, she would have done it long ago. No one enjoys being depressed and anyone with depression would love to snap out of it.
Depression is a sign of weakness.
Some people believe that depression is just crumbling under pressure and that mentally strong people don’t succumb to depression. This misconception keeps people from getting help for fear of looking weak. In fact, depression can hit anyone. Churchill and Lincoln struggled with depression for most of their lives. If they’re weak, what hope is there for any of us?
You need a reason to be depressed.
Many people with depression can see their lives are objectively pretty good and there’s no reason they should feel depressed. However, this doesn’t make them feel better. Instead, they typically feel guilty, spoiled, or ungrateful for being miserable despite having so many advantages. Quite often, people do have a reason for being depressed at first. Common reasons are the death of a loved one, a breakup, or childhood abuse. Sometimes depression is brought on by stress, like buying a house, or major hormonal changes like having a baby. However, after someone suffers two or three episodes of depression, it can become cyclical and return every 18 months or so for no apparent reason.
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