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It can be pretty easy to throw the word “depressed” around in our everyday lives. How many times have you or a friend said things like I’m so depressed, I can’t go out. Or You’re being so depressing. The truth is, many of us do it. And the term has become so casual. But for so many people— 350 million people worldwide — depression is a serious mental illness.
When it comes to teens and young adults today, research has found that young people are suffering from depression more now than ever before. A recent study found that there’s been a 37 percent increase in 12 to 20-year-olds who’ve suffered a major depressive episode in the past year. (A major depressive episode is defined as a period of two weeks or more filled with ongoing low moods.)
Although depression is slowly becoming more de-stigmatized, let’s be real, there’s still a lot of misconceptions out there about what depression really is.
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Here are nine things people typically get wrong about depression, according to experts:
MYTH: Depression just means you’re sad.
This is probably one of the most common misconceptions you’ll hear since depression is closely associated with feeling sad. But depression doesn’t just mean being sad. Yes, it can make you feel down and give you low moods. But it goes beyond that, both mentally and physically.
When you’re depressed you also feel worn down, hopeless, and tired, among other things. You might get headaches and other body pains. You might even start sleeping a lot more or a lot less depending on how depression affects you personally.
In teens and young adults, depression can present itself in so many different ways. According to Autumn Collier, LCSW, psychotherapist at Collier Counseling, LLC, sudden changes in character could be a result of a depressed mood.
For instance, if someone who’s typically very calm, cool, and collected suddenly turns argumentative and irritable on a daily basis, that change of character could stem from depression. But that’s just one example. Others include loss of focus, loss of interest, and just feeling unmotivated about life in general.
“Keep in mind, we all go through difficult days where we feel sad,” Collier says. “However, this does not mean we are clinically depressed. Amongst other things, clinical depression interferes with our daily activities such as school, extracurricular activities, and sleep.”
Myth: You can tell who’s suffering from depression just by looking at them.
Everyone has coping skills and defense mechanisms,” mental health therapist, Emily Griffin, MA, LCPC tells AwesomenessTV. “Sometimes individuals with depression can put on a ‘mask’ that hides how they really feel inside. This makes them feel less vulnerable which in turn feels more comfortable.”
Depression can show up in many ways. People are affected differently and they cope differently as well. Some people are better at hiding it than others. So to say it’s easy to pinpoint that a particular person is depressed is pretty inaccurate. That also means you never really know who’s going through it.
MYTH: Just changing your outlook can fix it.
For many, depression takes a lot more than just a simple change of mindset. “Depression happens in the brain,” NYC-based therapist Katie Krimer, MA, LMSW says. “It is just as much of a brain illness as it is a matter of having unhelpful sets of thoughts, overwhelming emotions, and possibly self-harmful behaviors.”
So while you might mean well, you can’t just tell someone with depression to cheer up and be positive. For one, it’s not exactly helpful. And two, it’s insensitive.
MYTH: You can never escape it.
Some may believe that if you experience depression, then that means it’s something you will battle for the rest of your life. But according to Krimer, our brains have something called “neuroplasticity.” That means the brain has the ability to change based on life experiences. How amazing is that?
“With a combination of talk therapy and medication, oftentimes many symptoms can be relieved and [you can] go into recovery,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you won’t experience a dip down the line, but just know that you can get better.”
MYTH: Real depression means being sad all the time.
As Rachel Kazez, LCSW, a therapist specializing in teens and young adults says, people who are depressed also have fun, laugh, get excited, and are productive. “They have better days and worse days, and days where they don’t feel depressed at all,” Kazez says. So just because a person isn’t crying 24 hours a day, it doesn’t mean they’re not suffering from depression.
MYTH: Medication is the only real cure.
Anti-depressants can help if they happen to work for you. As with any treatment, you really have to find the right one that meshes well with your body and contains the minimal amount of side effects.
If anti-depressants don’t work, Kazez says therapy is also super helpful. In therapy, you learn techniques that can help you cope on your own. Research also suggests that exercise is just as effective (or even more) compared to medication for people with moderate depression. So it’s important to really find a treatment plan that works for you.
MYTH: Depression is the result a traumatizing event.
You may feel depressed after a really bad breakup or the loss of a loved one. That grief you experience can lead to depression. But according to Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius, one major misconception about depression is that something terrible must have happened to cause it. The truth is, “depression can occur in some people for no reason in particular,” she says.
MYTH: Friends who say they feel suicidal are being dramatic.
“Many young people think that a friend saying they feel suicidal is just starting drama or not really worth being concerned about,” Saltz says. “But 15 percent of people with depression kill themselves.” Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds and at least 90 percent of teens who commit suicide have had some type of mental health issue like depression.
Suicide is not something to joke about. If someone brings it up even casually, take it seriously. Thoughts of death can really weigh heavily on someone suffering from depression. That person might really need help as soon as possible.
MYTH: Depression is a choice.
Out of all the misconceptions out there, this is probably the most bothersome and problematic. To people who don’t get it or have never experienced it themselves, depression is NOT a choice.
“The truth of the matter is that depression is a brain disease,” licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Paul Hokemeyer says. There are physical reasons people get depressed — and there are also very effective ways to treat it.
“People who suffer from depression are the most creative, dynamic and intelligent people I’ve ever met. I’m constantly in awe of their strength and capacity to put together rich and highly rewarding lives once they find the key that helps them manage their condition.”
So saying depression is a “choice” completely belittles everything a person who has it goes through on a daily basis. It makes it seem like their depression doesn’t really matter. That thinking can prevent someone who truly needs help from seeking out the help they need.
It’s not something you can easily snap out of whenever you’re feeling low. It doesn’t happen because a person is weak-willed or isn’t trying hard enough to think positively. Most importantly, it’s not made up.
“Depression is very real to the person who’s experiencing it,” Psychologist Vijayeta Sinh, PhD, owner of NYC Family Therapy says. “Others may not necessarily understand. But if it’s real to you, it’s worth working on.”
So there you go. If you’re struggling with depression, please know that there are so many resources out there for you. Some resources can even be found online. Getting information about depression and seeking the right help can change your (or a loved one’s) life.