Depression. The word itself can make you feel a little down. And if that doesn’t do it try watching one of those drug ads on TV. But at least there’s greater awareness. A condition once kept in the closet is finally out in the open. It’s okay to talk about depression and that’s a good thing. The problem is that, despite all the attempts to better understand what depression is and how best to treat it, many of us still don’t know what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, many of the myths and misconceptions associated with the word “depression” in the past are still prevalent today.
In the interest of clearing up some of the confusion about this very real disease, here’s a look at 5 of the most common false assumptions about depression.
1. Depression is a disease
If the above reference to depression as a “very real disease” didn’t raise your eyebrows, then you too have fallen for this assumption. Unfortunately, so have many physicians, especially those who provide primary care. After all, calling depression a disease, as opposed to the complex mental disorder that it is, makes it seem more easily treatable.
The drug companies have done a very good job at portraying depression, not just as a disease but as a disease that can be readily treated using their latest and greatest brand of pharmaceutical—commonly referred to as an “antidepressant”. The term “antidepressant” has done much to perpetrate the next false assumption, the assumption that…
2. All depression is the same
When we hear the word depression it can trigger certain images in our minds—stereotypical pictures of listless people with pained expressions, people who appear to have given up on anything and everything that might bring them some semblance of pleasure or happiness. But the truth is that not all who suffer from depression exhibit that kind of behavior. In fact, they may behave quite differently.
Depression is a complex condition with many contributing factors, not all of which are clearly understood. And the notion that all those who fall under the broad diagnosis of depression can be lumped together and treated with some “one-size fits all” pharmaceutical, aka the antidepressant, may be nice to consider, but it just isn’t true.
3. Depression means failure
Unfortunately, many who struggle with depression keep it to themselves because they feel that by admitting it to others, it may seem that they are weak and have failed in their attempts to deal with the demands of life—while those around them seem to have succeeded. They also fear that friends and family members will react negatively, branding them as losers, saying that it’s all in their minds and that they brought it on themselves.
The reality is that depression can affect anyone at any time, regardless of how confident and successful they appear to be. That’s why it’s so important that anyone who suspects that a friend, family member, or associate might be suffering from depression offers a listening ear—along with support and encouragement for that person to seek and get proper help.
4. Depression means a lifetime of medications
Along with the false assumption that medications alone are the answer for effectively treating depression, another misconception is that once a person starts drug therapy, they’re doomed to take antidepressant drugs for the rest of their lives. First off, no treatment for depression should ever be based on drugs alone. It’s difficult enough for physicians to prescribe the right drug for the right condition, plus it can take up to 6 weeks for a medication to even show signs that it’s working.
In addition, even when they do work, a majority of medications have been shown to only reduce the symptoms of depression by 50% at best. And many of these drugs come with a host of side effects that range from mildly annoying to downright dangerous. Psychotherapy (talk sessions) should always be initiated first line, with the addition of drug therapy as deemed appropriate by the physician.
Although the ideal therapeutic outcome is for patients to successfully manage their conditions after the cessation of drug therapy, many physicians still continue to use medications for the long-term treatment of depression. However, studies have shown that many patients who actively participate in talk therapy sessions, along with those who adopt a regular exercise program—30 min. of aerobic exercise 5 times weekly—are able to get off of medications sooner than later, and sometimes in as little as 24 weeks.
5. Depression is in our DNA
A very common misconception is that depression runs in the family, meaning that if our parents or other close relatives have dealt with depression, then our brains are basically hard-wired by heredity to suffer the same fate. While past studies have shown that those with depressed relatives are at greater risk for developing depression, newer studies suggest that this risk is much lower than previously thought. In other words, genetics can give you blue eyes, but not a blue mood.