There are many myths about depression, including that it is not a real condition or that it only affects certain people. In addition to discouraging people from seeking help, these myths contribute to the stigma surrounding the condition.

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In 2020, around 8.4% of all adults in the United States experienced at least one episode of major depression. This makes it one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S.

Despite this, many myths continue to surround depression. This is mostly due to outdated science, as well as cultural and social misconceptions about the condition.

This article discusses some of the most common myths surrounding depression, explains why they are misleading, and separates facts from fiction.

Some people discredit depression by claiming that it is not a real medical condition, believing that it is a choice that a person makes or a result of a personality trait.

Some people also used to view depression as a type of sadness or self-pity rather than a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition.

Facts

Depression is a condition that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines. It involves both emotional and physical symptoms.

In order to receive a diagnosis of depression, a person has to qualify for the criteria in the manual. These include having symptoms that continue for at least 2 weeks and can significantly change how a person thinks, feels, and acts.

Therefore, depression is not equivalent to simple sadness or self-pity. Doctors have linked depression to a mixture of biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

More than 8 in 100 adults in the U.S. experienced at least one episode of major depression in 2020 that caused them severe impairment.

Antidepressants can improve the way the brain uses chemicals that manage mood and stress, and doctors will often prescribe them to help treat depression.

Some people believe that taking antidepressants is the best or most effective way to treat depression.

It is also a common belief that a person needs to take antidepressants for the rest of their life to prevent symptoms of depression.

Facts

Antidepressants are not a cure-all for depression, and they do not work for everyone or in every situation. In fact, doctors usually prescribe antidepressants alongside psychotherapy and lifestyle changes.

Additionally, while it is true that some people with depression will take antidepressants for many years to manage their symptoms, doctors very rarely prescribe antidepressants for life.

It typically takes several weeks for antidepressants to begin to work. It is important to note that it is not safe for people taking antidepressants to suddenly stop taking them. This is due to the risk of side effects resulting from discontinuing certain medications.

Most people make a plan with their doctor or mental health professional to slowly start reducing their dosage. This tapering-off method is common practice once a person’s symptoms have resolved.

Usually, this would be after taking the medication for at least 6 months.

Some people believe that depression always results from a traumatic event.

Facts

Trauma can be a risk factor or a potential trigger of depression.

There is not a single cause of depression, and it often occurs due to a combination of different factors.

Also, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop depression. The condition can also develop when everything in someone’s life seems to be going ok.

Adolescence can be an emotionally, socially, and physiologically difficult time. The symptoms of depression can be similar to the effects of adolescence. These include oversleeping, irritability, pessimism, and anxiety.

This may make some people believe that depression is just a part of a person’s transition to adulthood.

Facts

Adolescents do experience high rates of depression. An estimated 17% of U.S. teenagers aged 12–17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020.

However, just as in adult cases, there is a difference between typical adolescent sadness and depression. Typically if the sadness, irritation, and lack of pleasure in things the teenager previously enjoyed continue for a prolonged period of time, a doctor may begin to suspect the teenager is living with depression.

This means that not every moody teenager is necessarily depressed, and depression is not a rite of passage or a biological event that a person must go through to reach adulthood.

However, teenagers who do demonstrate symptoms such as consistently reduced mood and trouble coping with the demands of school may want to seek help as soon as possible by talking with a trusted adult or doctor or by texting TXT 4 HELP.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms, “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Cultural and societal stereotypes have maintained the myth that males do not or should not develop depression. As a result of this, many people have overlooked male depression for a long time.

Facts

Anyone can experience depression. However, depression may involve different symptoms in males and females, and different factors can increase the risk of depressive episodes for each sex.

Depression in males

Some research indicates that males living with depression may exhibit more symptoms of anger and substance use disorder than females.

They may also be less open to talking about their feelings and, therefore, may be less likely to seek help. This can be a result of cultural stigma around masculinity and male behavior.

Males experiencing symptoms of depression should speak with a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible to prevent serious complications. This is important because some research shows that males are more likely than females to die by suicide where depression is a factor.

Depression in females

On the other hand, depression is more common in females. Females may also experience a type of depression that doctors call postpartum depression after giving birth. The effects of this usually include anxiety, fatigue, and a persistent low mood.

Researchers believe that postpartum depression develops for several reasons, including sudden changes in hormonal levels.

People with postpartum depression may feel exhaustion and extreme sadness to the extent that it makes it hard for them to care for themselves and their babies. Those who exhibit these symptoms would benefit from professional help from an expert in this type of depression.

Learn about how to deal with postpartum depression here.

Many people believe that having a family history of depression guarantees that a person will also eventually develop the condition.

Facts

Genetics certainly plays a role in the development of depression. Research shows that people who have a first-degree relative living with depression are 2–3 times more likely to develop depression themselves.

However, there are people with such a family history who do not develop depression. On the other hand, people with no family history of depression do also develop the condition.

Whether a person develops depression can also depend on other environmental, psychological, and biological factors. Therefore, just because a person’s relatives have experienced depression does not automatically indicate they will develop it themselves.

People who do develop depression, however, may find extra comfort and guidance from talking with family members who personally understand the condition.

Some people believe that staying busy with work, school, or other hobbies and activities can help them prevent or avoid depressive episodes.

Facts

Getting the recommended amount of exercise and spending time with family and friends may help a person cope with depression, though simply throwing oneself into work or other activities will not necessarily help ease a person’s symptoms.

A person can, however, focus on a hobby, project, or other meaningful activity as part of their treatment for depression. A therapist may, for example, recommend a person do this as part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

In addition, a person may wish to focus on a few of their regular tasks during a depressive episode. They should try to break any large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones and avoid doing too many things at once.

People should also postpone making any important decisions or commitments during depressive episodes to make clearer, more objective choices.

Many people experience their first depressive episode in adulthood, often in their 20s or 30s. For this reason, some people believe that depression only affects adults rather than children, teens, or adolescents.

Some people also think that depression is a natural part of aging and is considered typical in older adults.

Facts

Depression can develop at any age, including in young children.

In older adults, serious medical conditions such as cancer, heart conditions, and Parkinson’s disease can give rise to depression. Some medications for serious health conditions can also cause side effects that increase the risk of depression.

These include certain allergies, blood pressure, and pain medications, as well as others.

However, depression is not a routine part of aging, though it can occur in older age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1–5% of older adults living outside of care homes and hospitals experience depression.

Still, older adults with chronic health conditions or signs of depression should speak to their doctor about how to reduce their risk of depression or treat it. Doctors can sometimes miss the symptoms of depression by mistaking them for a natural response to severe illness.

A myth persists that talking about depression can make it worse, largely because of the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.

For this reason, many people avoid talking about depression or acknowledging any of the symptoms they may be experiencing.

Facts

It is not true that talking about depression can make it worse. In fact, people with depression should try to discuss it, as many will need a form of outside help to start feeling better.

People with depression can try to talk with someone they trust, such as a nonjudgmental friend or family member, or healthcare professional.

Several types of evidence-based psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can also help treat depression, including:

When a person combines it with psychotherapy or medication, making certain dietary changes can sometimes reduce the symptoms of depression.

Several supplement manufacturers claim that their products help treat depression, leading many to wonder whether herbal products can replace other treatment methods.

Facts

Few herbal supplements have scientific backing, and some of these may actually cause serious health conditions, especially St. John’s wort, which can cause negative interactions if a person mixes it with antidepressants.

Other unproven popular natural supplements for depression include:

Although some studies suggest that these supplements may help with depression, the evidence is inconclusive. People considering taking herbal supplements should first talk with a mental health professional.

Here are answers to a few common questions about depression.

Is depression an actual disease?

Depression is a real medical condition that can cause a range of psychological and physical symptoms. Over time, depression can also change the way a person thinks and feels and impact their ability to function on a daily basis.

Can a person be born with depression?

Some people may have a higher risk of developing depression, including those who have a family member with a history of depression. However, while genetics may play a role in the development of depression, it is not a guarantee that a person will experience the condition.

What are the top 5 symptoms of depression?

While depression can affect people differently, it generally causes a loss of interest or pleasure in activities and a depressed mood. It may also cause symptoms such as changes in appetite or body weight, low energy levels, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

Despite being a very common condition that mental health providers recognize, depression still fuels many myths and misconceptions.

As researchers learn more about depression, and as societal, cultural, and medical perceptions about it evolve, these misconceptions are disappearing.