Myths & Meanings: Understanding Depression

 A Note From The Editor: While it’s never easy or comfortable to bring the deep issues that many of us wrestle with into the light, we are no less convinced that certain issues must be discussed in order to increase awareness, foster healing and to — perhaps most importantly — remind ourselves that we are not alone. The following is the first post in a series about understanding and seeking treatment for depression. We hope this encourages healthy discussion and motivates those who are struggling to reach out for help. 

depression

MYTH: Depression is just a bad attitude and can be turned around simply by changing your outlook on life.

MEANING: Depression is one of the most disabling mental health issues and is as serious as a physical illness. Being human involves experiencing an array of emotions. Dips in mood that lead to feeling down is a universal experience. Navigating the hurts of disappointment, loss, change and loneliness that occur in life can be painful at times.

Depression is one of the most disabling mental health issues and is as serious as a physical illness.

What differentiates a “down day” from a more severe clinical diagnosis is the intensity and the duration of the symptoms, along with one’s ability to meet daily responsibilities i.e: work, school and/or caring for children, paying bills, maintaining basic hygiene and self-care. Dips in mood are regularly minimized because being down is often not tolerated or respected in our culture. Well-meaning phrases, such as the following, can reflect a significant lack of understanding about clinical mood issues and the expected ease with which one can experience relief:

  • Just let it go.
  • Cheer up!
  • Stay Positive
  • It could be worse.
  • At least 

For someone who has a history of clinical depression, down days may be very triggering for fear the black hole of depression will become consuming again. For those who have never received treatment for mood disorders before, it is often overwhelming navigating the fog of symptoms and the vulnerability of reaching out for help.

MYTH: Depression and mood disorders are just selfish responses and make a big deal out of feeling bad.

MEANING: Mood Disorders are serious conditions. According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people around the globe struggle with clinical depression, making it the most prevalent mood disorder.

Experiences of depression and mood disorders are unique to each individual, though there are some common symptoms which normalize and validate the seriousness of this mental health issue. When several of the following symptoms occur at the same time and last longer than two weeks, that indicates an individual’s mood dip has moved into a major depressive episode. Specialized professional help is recommended as soon as possible:

  • persistently sad or irritable mood, angry outbursts
  • significant changes in sleep (early waking or over sleeping), appetite, weight and energy
  • feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, emptiness
  • difficulty thinking, concentration, remembering, making decisions
  • physical slowing or agitation
  • lack of interest or pleasure from activities that once were enjoyed
  • recurrent thoughts of death and suicide, urges to self harm
  • persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment such as headaches, digestive issues and chronic pain

Treatment professionals can also assess and treat related mood disorders such as bipolar, mania, bereavement, mood issues related to physical illness or substance abuse, seasonal affect disorder, postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and disruptive mood regulation disorder (formerly childhood bipolar disorder).

This depression screening tool for adults is another helpful resource in assessing for depression and the severity of symptoms.

MYTH: People who struggle with depression and other mood disorders are weak and bring it on themselves.

MEANING: The social stigma surrounding depression and other mood disorders can be a shaming experience, one that influences many to keep silent in their suffering and not reach out for help.

Tragically, two thirds of those suffering with depression are under-treated because of this social stigma. Many go to great lengths to make sure they are not judged or misunderstood because of their struggles. A mood disorder diagnosis is not an identity label, but instead a guide for both the individual suffering with depression and the treatment professional in developing treatment options and plans.

A mood disorder diagnosis is not an identity label …

Effective treatments are available to the 18 million people who are living with depression. Continued education and awareness will improve early intervention and decrease the social stigma and the subsequent negative emotional, physical, financial and relationship implications of under treated depression.

Make sure to check out part II in this series, coming up soon: Treating and Supporting Depression

Image via Sara Tasker

Rebecca is an LMFT speaker, writer, consultant and owner of Potentia Therapy in San Diego. She's also proud mom of two kids and wife to a husband who dares to rumble with respect and courage.

6 COMMENTS
  • As a person close to someone who has depression, this really hits home. Thank you for clearing up some misunderstandings about depression. I only hope that it doesn’t remain such a taboo topic where I live!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Rebecca Ching, LMFT June 6, 2018

      Thanks for reading and responding, Charmaine. We just need to keep talking about it until it is no longer taboo. One conversation at a time, one blog post at a time. 🙂

  • Rebecca March 26, 2015

    Dana – Thanks for reading and for sharing your insights. I agree, it is powerful and important to view your brain’s unique needs and chemistry as part of your biology vs depression being a result of something you did or did not do. Some people simply have different brain chemistry needs which can impact lifestyle and treatment choices. While depression has a general etiology, each person’s story and physiology inform a specific treatment plan and lens that can differ from person to person. Rebecca 🙂

  • Dana March 25, 2015

    I have struggled with depression for years. One thing that really helped me to accept and get rid of feelings of shame and guilt was the realization that depression is a chemical imbalance in the body. While there are definitely activities and techniques I can use to help with the symptoms, understanding that depression was part of my biology and something that was always going to be part of me was oddly comforting. Thinking of depression this way allowed me to get rid of the notion that it was somehow my fault or that something was wrong with me. Now I looked at my depression as a part of me that I have to accept and deal with, sort of how people with type one diabetes must accept and deal with their diagnosis.

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