14 of the Most Dangerous Misconceptions About Depression

Updated: Jun. 29, 2018

Some ingrained notions about depression cause unneeded suffering for people with depression and those around them. Here's how to better cope with this debilitating condition—and eliminate crushing and deadly isolation.

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“I’m weak if I can’t get over this”

Unlike diabetes, cancer, or an infection, mental illness is something people think that they can beat on their own through some magical force. It’s important to understand that depression is caused by a combination of a biological predisposition and environmental stress—and it’s a real illness. Due to the isolating nature of the disease, it can feel like you’re the only one in the world who feels this miserable; just know that about one in five people will battle depression at some point, according to research. Brute strength or willpower won’t get you through this condition—you need to enlist help from friends, family, and professionals. Here are 12 ways to help someone with depression.

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“I’m always going to feel this way.”

When you’re lost in darkness, it’s hard to see a way out. Or maybe you’ve beaten depression once before, and now it’s back. Either way, don’t assume you’re doomed—this is called catastrophic thinking and it’s definitely not true. Each depressive episode provides an opportunity to develop better skills and recruit more help in the battle against depression. You can get better at fighting this enemy—by trying a new medication or trying a different therapy—and you’ll be stronger should depression return. A study in the journal Current Psychiatry indicates that remission rates can be improved if patients become familiar with their triggers and stressors, improve their coping skills, and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

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” I should be able to beat this on my own”

Utilizing support and resources is an essential part of beating depression. No one questions taking antibiotics if they have an infection, or wearing a cast to heal a broken arm. Using antidepressants and therapy will help you heal, and true strength is realizing that you can’t beat this on your own. Here are 16 science-backed ways for overcoming depression.

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“Terrible things happened to me and nothing will change that.”

A traumatic history can definitely push a person into depression, but a form of depression therapy—cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)—can help people manage this kind of trouble. The therapy is based on the premise that it is not the events themselves that lead a person to feel the way they do, but the way they react to those events. By working with a counselor you can start to challenge some of the negative thoughts that contribute to your depression and create a new perspective on past events. Evidence from the National Institutes of Health reveals that CBT can be very effective. Here’s a guide to how CBT works.

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“I don’t want to burden people.”

The bigger burden is shouldering a heavy mood, day in and day out, and having it influence your social interactions. Letting your family and friends help you not only eases your burden but it allows them to feel self-assured and useful. Many times people who are depressed feel caught in between opening up too much or not saying anything and feeling as though they can’t reveal their true emotions. Don’t miss the 8 hidden warning signs of depression.

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“If I start taking medication I’ll need it forever.”

Only 25 percent of people prescribed antidepressants will be on them for more than ten years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which of course means the majority take them for much less time. And while people may feel a stigma about needing a drug to feel better, they might feel better when they hear that 13 percent of Americans depend on the medications. Many of my patients report that being on antidepressants help them gain perspective and distance from their problems; they feel as though they can finally keep their head above water. For many, the drugs can help them kickstart the habits that will help keep their mind healthy once they go off medication. Here are 10 silent signs that you need depression medication.


“Medication will change my personality”

People think that being on a medication will fundamentally change who they are or what they think—but medications do not work that way. The class of antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) work to correct the amount of the mood-influencing neurochemical serotonin in your brain—it dips in those with depression. Some people think that being cynical is a part of who they are, but they should really give a calmer, more balanced and optimistic mood a try. When you start to gain distance, perspective, and energy, you might be shocked to discover that bitterness and cynicism actually isn’t an essential part of who you are. Don’t miss these 26 depression quotes that capture exactly what you’re feeling.

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“I can’t have a depression—it would mean I’m a bad mother.”

Moms put a lot of pressure on themselves, but it’s possible to have depression and still have positive connections and bonds with your children. Denying your mood won’t help—acknowledge your depression and seek help. In the meantime, you’re probably doing a better job than you think you are.

According to the CDC, as many as one in five women will suffer from postpartum depression. Additionally, up to 80 percent of women experience mild depression or the “baby blues”—they have some depressive symptoms. Recognizing you’re not alone can reduce the stigma of having depression. Having depression is stressful enough, adding insult to injury is berating yourself for it. These are 10 things about postpartum depression your OB/GYN wants you to know.

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“I shouldn’t intervene with a depressed friend. I wouldn’t know what to say.”

Saying anything is better than nothing. If a friend is going through something and you’re not sure how to help, you can just start there. Try saying, “you sound really sad and I’m not sure how I can help.” Creating a mirror for the person can sometimes help them correct their course. If they can see how much they’re mood is influencing your friendship, it may help them recognize they need more professional help. If you feel overwhelmed by a friend’s depression or if it seems like they are stuck, it may be the time to recommend they see a professional. This teen talked a stranger out of suicide by saying this one thing.

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“I can’t tell my friend to see a therapist—he’ll be angry with me.”

Recommending a friend see a counselor comes from a place of caring and support. The best way to accomplish that may be to share a personal experience of therapy if you have one. You can even mention the success other people you know have had with counseling. Take this depression quiz to see if you can ID the signs.

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“I’m the strong one so I shouldn’t be the one to ask for help”

You’re the one who everyone else comes to when they get upset. You’re the employee who seems to have it all together. How can you admit to people that you’re feeling depressed? Reframe your thinking: It’s because you’re the strong one that you can be brave enough to ask for help. With so many people relying on you, you owe it to yourself and to all those you are supporting to put the oxygen mask on your self first. Make sure you’re aware of the resources available to help. You don’t have to go it alone.

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“It would be obvious if my friend was suicidal.”

Not necessarily. Many of the most common symptoms of depression are insidious and not on the surface. These include changes in appetite or eating, social withdrawal, changes in sleep and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. It may be hard to know what your closest friends’ sleep and eating habits are. If someone is serious about taking their own life, they’re unlikely to share that information. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and reach out. Don’t miss these 13 suicide warnings that are easy to miss.

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“I tried antidepressants before and they don’t work on me.”

People don’t realize the amount of time it can take for the drugs to begin to work. On average, it takes four to six weeks for antidepressants to kick in; only then will you and your therapist be able to evaluate whether the medication is working. Given the day-to-day mood fluctuations and the impact of job and home stress, it can sometimes take even longer. But here’s hope. Science breakthroughs may soon be making antidepressants work faster.

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“It doesn’t matter what I do—I’ll be depressed no matter what.”

Your behavior dramatically impacts your depression. How do you feel when you’ve stayed in bed watching Netflix for hours? How does that compare to when you’ve had a productive day at work, had coffee with friends, and worked out? What you do can improve your mood and can create a healthy cycle of feeling better and having more energy to do more positive things. Make sure you avoid these 9 habits that can worsen your risk for depression.