Alongside addiction, issues regarding mental health are commonly misunderstood by both the media and the public in general. It is this misunderstanding that keeps those that need help from getting or the help that they need, and stops many from searching for help in the first place. I would like to take the opportunity to dispel some myths about depression.
No#1: People suffering Depression have a sort of ‘moral’ flaw. They would be fine if they would just ‘pull their socks up’.
A common misconception. Depressed people are not bad people, or unfortunate people, or even in many cases, unhappy people. What they are is de-pressed, held down, not living the life they deserve because of a medical condition. If somebody has a tumour, or Cancer we make space in our understanding for them. We attempt to understand. We provide medical treatments and rehabilitation to make sure their condition improves. We do not tell them to ‘get a grip’. Depression is a disease of the spirit, but often physically hurts just as a wound does. It should be treated as such.
No#2: People Suffering Depression just have a ‘case of the blues’ and do not need to waste a doctors time. It is not a medical issue.
This is one of the most common misconceptions around. Depression is not only a distinct medical disorder but a regularly studied and re-evaluated one. It is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Journal used by the American Psychiatric Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It has a set compilation of symptoms and thorough guidelines have been set out for its’ treatment. ‘Thorough Guidelines’ may seem a little vague, but no disorder of the brain is simple to quantify or solve. Like the common cold, depression affects different people in different ways, even if the underlying disorder is the same. Status as a medical disorder does not mean that it can be treated with medication alone. Seeing your doctor for a course of medication is the first step, but integrating the meds into a shift in lifestyle and perception is the key to recovery.
No#3: Depression is genetic and is passed from parents to children.
Despite various scientific studies spanning many years, there is no scientific evidence that clinically depressed parents make for clinically depressed children. This is not to say that children of depressed parents will or will not become depressed themselves. Everybody is of course their own individual person, but the child of depressed parents is more likely to mimic that parents reaction to difficult circumstances. If this reaction involves heavy drinking/drug use leading to addiction then it is not out of the realms of possibility that the child will also choose this route. So, paradoxically, although depressed adults does not equal depressed children, addicted adults get depressed and have depressed, addicted children. What has evolved from the study of depressed adults/children is a greater emphasis on the nature/nurture debate, whether a child’s genetics or environment affect their maturation more. If a parent has acknowledged their depression and is concerned about it passing genetically to their children, the best approach is to show the children that they can accept their own disorder and educate the child on proper conflict resolution. Then there is no need for the child to become depressed at all, and should they become affected then they are in good stead to cope with it effectively.
No#4: Depression is part of getting older. It is normal to go through depressed ‘phases’ when you are young and as you get older.
Here are some of the symptoms of depression, as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
- diminished pleasure of activities
- insomnia or hypersomnia
- feelings of worthlessness
- excessive, irrational guilt
- diminished ability to think
Which part, which one in particular, would you say is normal? It is a fact that the body goes through certain physiological changes at different stages of life. Some hormones become more active, some diminish. Bodies grow, then stop, then (appear to) shrink. The same can be said about processes in the brain and their relation to our thought processes. Constant change is the only thing in life that stays the same. Human change is a form of progression, a microcosm of evolution. Change should be about brand new and exciting experiences. Saying that depression is an entirely normal part of that seems entirely abnormal.
No#5: Depression will always stop you achieving. Only losers get depressed.
Some of the greatest and most instantly recognisable names in history have been diagnosed as clinically depressed at some time, or we can infer it from their histories and biographies. These great names include: Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Dolly Parton (!), Newton, Darwin, Hawking, Van Gogh and Beethoven.
Beethoven continued to write awe inspiring music after he went deaf. Florence Nightingale founded the profession of Nursing, Charles Darwin rocked the scientific world with his theories on the origin of man and evolution, and Steven Hawking has been awarded the highest civilian award in America; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, even though he suffers from muscular dystrophy and talks using a computer. Nobody could accuse these people of letting depression stop them achieving.
No#6: Depression is only a ‘womans issue’.
Casual misogyny aside, depression is commonly seen as a woman’s issue simply because women are more likely to report it, to tell others! It is generally perceived as far more socially acceptable for women to admit to struggling with life’s trials, whilst men would be seen as somewhat weak both by themselves and their peer group. Therefore the levels of clinical depression in men is under-reported and the figures show disproportionately high amounts of women suffering depression.
What is a major issue is that men are more often successful at committing suicide than women (because of their methods, rather than by any gender specific skill) and so need the intervention of help and support more acutely.
The more myths and unhealthy attitudes about depression surface the more they need debunking. The ideas touched upon here are only a few of the more common misconceptions, but there are more, and all they do is take emphasis away from the study of depression for what it really is; an unhealthy coping mechanism that can be treated and replaced for the benefit of all.