It’s among the most common mental illnesses, affecting more than 8% of Americans each year. But in spite of its prevalence, major depression is often misunderstood—and these major depression myths hurt those who are struggling by compounding stigma and discouraging these individuals from seeking help. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately four in 10 individuals who experience major depression over the course of a year did not receive treatment, and these misconceptions often play a role.
Also known as major depressive disorder, major depression is characterized by feelings of sadness or loss of interest that last at least two weeks, and it can severely impact a person’s ability to function. Symptoms can look different from person to person, and frequently include changes in mood, sleep and appetite, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, feeling of hopelessness, guilt or agitation, physical aches and pains, digestive issues and suicidal thoughts.
But, even though major depressive disorder doesn’t look the same for everyone suffering from it, there are some things about it that are never true. Here are four common major depression myths.
Myth #1: Major depression and feeling depressed are the same thing.
Nearly everyone feels down from time to time. But major depression is much more than that. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Major depressive disorder is much more than feeling sad or having a bad day. It is a serious mental illness (SMI) that requires understanding, compassion and medical care.”
Major depression is also different from sadness and grief, both of which are typically experienced in response to hurt or loss. Though these feelings can be part of experiencing depression, they’re part of everyone’s range of emotions and on their own are not major depressive disorder.
Myth #2: Those dealing with major depression can “just snap out of it.”
While advice like “just choose to be happy” or “find joy” can be well-meaning, phrases like these ignore the fact that those living with major depressive disorder can’t just shake it off because they’re dealing not with a bad mood but with a serious mental illness. And, although measures such as physical activity and meditation can be part of a person’s treatment plan, they’re far from a cure.
But, although addressing major depression isn’t as simple as taking a few deep breaths or going for a hike, this condition is among the most treatable of mental health disorders. The American Psychiatric Association explains that between 80% and 90% of people living with depression eventually respond well to treatment, and nearly all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. Psychotherapy and medication are common treatments for major depression, and they’re often supplemented with options such as light therapy, brain stimulation and alternative approaches including acupuncture, as well as lifestyle measures such as exercise and getting adequate sleep.
Myth #3: Major depression can be caused by a lack of faith.
Anyone, regardless of how strong their faith is, can struggle with major depressive disorder. But a persistent misconception about this mental illness and faith is still common in many circles: the idea that major depression is caused by a failure to trust God. This major depression myth can be especially harmful as it tells those who are suffering that they must not be praying or believing enough—in spite of the fact that many are clinging to their faith to help them deal with the often-overwhelming symptoms of their illness. Just as a lack of faith doesn’t cause cancer, it’s not the source of conditions that affect the brain.
Spending time with a religious community, prayer, reading Scripture and other faith-based practices can provide support and hope for those living with major depressive disorder. But alone they don’t take this medical condition away.
Myth #4: Medication is a crutch.
Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications. A Centers for Disease Control study found that over 13% of Americans took them over a 30-day period. But many people still view these drugs not as helpful tools but as crutches.
Medication doesn’t work for everyone and is often paired with other treatments for maximum effectiveness. But the reality remains that antidepressant drugs help many millions of people find relief from their symptoms and pursue steps that support their physical and mental wellbeing.
The Well Community is the only faith-based organization in the Dallas area that exclusively serves those dealing with serious mental illnesses such as major depression. Your partnership will help us continue to come alongside them through connection, resources and support.