Things People Get Wrong About Depression

Depression is pretty simple to understand, right? Major mood disorder, sad all the time, can’t get out of bed, done. Well, as it turns out, not so much. I’ve dealt with myths surrounding depression and its many complexities before, but the persistence of misleading or unscientific information, even if it’s well-intentioned, means we need to keep talking about it. Depressives don’t claim to be giant mysteries wrapped in enigmas, but getting the facts right is helpful when it comes to supporting us and helping us get the best treatment we can.

It’s important to emphasize that many of these incorrect assumptions about depression don’t come from negative places, and that some of them are based on ideas that were true at one point or seem to make perfect logical sense. It’s possible to be a sensitive, interested person and still be wrong about depression. I’m not calling you an idiot; I’m just asking you to update your information.

Increasing celebrity openness about depressive disorders has helped widen public awareness of its prevalence and variation; when everybody from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jon Hamm has come out to admit that they’ve experienced depression, it becomes clear that wealth and privilege do not insulate you from the vagaries of mood disorders. But we’ve still got some way to go in dealing with common misconceptions about depression, how they develop, and who has them, among other things.

Here are seven common depression myths; if you encounter things like this, it’s valuable to point out that they may have got things twisted, if only to make life easier for any depressive people in their lives.

1. That It’s Just Excessive Sadness

I wish depression could be solved with a big cry and some ice cream. That would make the lives of every sufferer everywhere much easier; but as it stands, unfortunately, depression is not the outlier on a scale of “sad feelings”. It is a separate disorder unto itself, and the Huffington Post’s Alena Hall makes the point that part of the issue is depth: sadness is a passing emotional state, whereas depression is a chronic emotional condition in which emotional states themselves are warped, entrenched, and accompanied by other severe symptoms. The major part of depression that distinguishes it is persistence; the feelings themselves cannot be lifted, and affect everything from concentration to stress levels to your ability to interest yourself in hobbies. Depressives feel sad, but sadness is a part of a much bigger issue, not a more intense version of a normal emotion.

2. That It Means You’re Incapable Of Happiness

There’s often a dichotomy in the way we talk about depression: it’s the opposite of happiness. This isn’t accurate and is also actually quite damaging; Thought Catalog recently published a thoughtful essay on why the idea of “choosing happiness” as an antidote to depression is a dangerous bit of advice, as it grossly oversimplifies and trivializes the condition. But the fact remains that depressives can have moments of happiness and pleasure; their experiences depend heavily on the extent of their condition, how well it’s being managed and/or medicated, and what has caused it to develop. Some depressives exist in a continual haze or “fog” of anhedonia (lack of interest) and misery, while others can break through that fog with studious work or “good days”. It’s not sensible to assume that depression is like a giant veil that’s never removed; depressives can experience joy and happiness, but it’s a deeply individual experience.

3. That It’s Synonymous With Being Suicidal

Depression isn’t a blanket diagnosis. Within the category there are many different types: Beyond Blue, the Australian depression organization, identifies major depression, psychotic depression, postnatal and antenatal depression, bipolar disorders, and a condition called dysthymia, which is essentially persistent mild depression over a long time period. And within all of those categories there’s considerable individual room to move, from symptom persistence to the age it first developed.

My own depression is exacerbated by external factors, and can move from major to severely suicidal (which, by the way, is not fun and has been survived only by the efforts of a large support team); but while around 90 percent of suicides are estimated to have suffered from a depressive disorder, not all depressives are suicidal. People like Robin Williams and David Foster Wallace survived with depression for years before experiencing things that made suicide seem a sensible option; this is an important thing to realize when talking to and understanding depressive experience.

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