10 Depression Myths (And The Straight Facts)

— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.

Globally, an estimated 5% of adults suffer from depression. It can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, culture, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

But there are still many myths and rumors around it. This is partly because of the social stigma attached to mental disorders. This makes people unfairly discriminate against those who struggle with mental illnesses like depression.

As a result, many sufferers of depression do not seek help or treatment.

We have to work together to erase the stigma around it and shatter the related myths of depression.

Myth 1: Keeping busy cures depression.

Keeping busy alone is not a cure for depression.

Things that keep you busy, like exercise, hobbies, and socializing, can be a helpful coping strategy to complement professional treatment. At best, they can give short-term relief.

Positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar has said, “Not exercising is like taking a depressant.” Indeed, exercise boosts happiness via the release of endorphins and other hormones.

  • This study found that low-fitness people had 2.0 times higher odds of depression.
  • This review with more than 2 million persons-years found that regular physical activity, thrice a week, reduces up to 25% of all depressive episodes.

That said, please note that Ben-Shahar did not imply that exercise could replace antidepressants. No, exercise cannot replace therapy or medicine.

Even very active people can have severe depression, requiring treatment.

“Busyness” alone is not enough to treat the physiological changes, chemical imbalances, and thought/behavior patterns that come with depression.

depression myths

Myth 2: Family history guarantees depression.

Having a family history of depression increases your risk of depression, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop it.

This study found that:

  • Father’s history of major depression increases the risk of major depression to about 1.85 to 2 times.
  • Mother’s history of major depression increases the risk of major depression to about 2 times.
  • Full sibling with major depression increases the risk by about 2 to 2.1 times.
  • For half-siblings, the risk is slightly lower, from 1.66 to 2.06 times.

That said, not everyone who has a family history of depression develops depression themselves.

Depression is the result of many factors—genetic, biological, environmental, psychological, and unknown ones.

Many people with a family history of depression don’t develop it themselves, while others without a family history may still experience depression.

Myth 3: Talking about depression makes it worse.

This myth can prevent people from seeking help. Talking openly about depression is certainly a helpful step in recovery.

Bottling up emotions and avoiding discussion can worsen depression by reinforcing feelings of isolation and stigma.

Researchers found that college students who suppressed their feelings (when facing emotional and social changes) had fewer close friends and less support, and felt less satisfied socially (Srivastava et al., 2009).

Conversely, expressing emotions in a supportive environment has been linked to improved mental health outcomes.

So, shake off the stigma and share your emotional experiences with a trustworthy confidant, a loved one, or a mental health professional.

You don’t have to do it alone.

Myth 4: Depression is an imaginary (not real) condition.

Depression is a real and serious medical condition that affects a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and well-being.

It’s not something that can be willed away or imagined. Also, depression does not point to a failure of “willpower” or “weak character” in a person.

It’s a legitimate mental illness that requires appropriate treatment.

It is normal for each of us to express emotions like happiness, anger, anxiety, or fear. So it is for “sadness” or “depression.” Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist and philosopher, said it aptly:

“Man could not live if he were entirely impervious to sadness. Many sorrows can be endured only by being embraced.”

The World Health Organization recognizes depression as a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting over 300 million people globally (WHO, 2022). Brain imaging studies have consistently shown structural and functional differences in the brains of those with depression.

Myth 5: Depression always results from a traumatic event.

While traumatic events can trigger depression in some cases, it’s not always the case.

Approximately 70% of first depression episodes and 40% of recurrent episodes of depression are preceded by a severe stressful life event (Monroe & Harkness, 2005). Not 100%.

Common traumatic events that raise the risk of depression are death, divorce, break-ups, separations, and threats of separation (Hammen, 2005).

However, external factors are not always necessary to make a person go into depression. Many depressed people cannot pinpoint a specific traumatic event that caused their condition.

We now know that depression can also result from biochemical imbalances, genetic predispositions, chronic stress, and factors unrelated to trauma.

Unnoticed changes in the brain can lead one to depression without any external triggers.

Myth 6: Medication, once started, is needed for the rest of life.

Antidepressants are often prescribed for a limited time to help manage depression symptoms and stabilize mood.

With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, people may eventually stop taking medication under the guidance of their doctor.

According to guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association, continuing antidepressant treatment for 4–9 months after remission can greatly reduce the risk of relapse (Gelenberg, 2010).

However, those with a higher risk of recurrence and a more severe condition may need to continue medication for a longer time.

Another related myth is that medication is the only treatment for depression. Not so.

Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, is an effective non-drug treatment for depression.

Lifestyle changes like regular exercise, balanced diet, stress management, and support groups are good complementary treatments.

Myth 7: Depression is a normal part of growing up as an adult.

Depression is not a normal part of aging or a phase that everyone goes through.

It’s a mental health condition that requires treatment, regardless of age.

While life transitions and stress can contribute to depression, persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities are not a typical part of the adult experience.

Myth 8: Herbal supplements can help treat depression.

Herbal supplements have not been scientifically proven to treat depression effectively.

There is no convincing evidence that popular supplements like St. John’s wort, omega-3 fatty acids, or folate can effectively treat depression.

Worse, some supplements can even interact with prescription medications or have adverse side effects.

Strictly consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements for depression because they are neither effective nor proven safe.

Myth 9: Depression only affects women. Men do not or should not develop depression.

Depression can affect anyone, regardless of gender.

While depression rates are higher among women (1.5-3.0 times more), men also experience it at significant rates.

About 1 in 8 men, and about 1 in 5 women, will encounter a major depressive episode during their lifetime (Sloan & Sandt, 2006).

  • Women are more expressive about their depressive symptoms.
  • Men may not openly discuss their mental health issues due to masculinity-driven expectations and social stigma, leading them to internalize their feelings.

Men have been observed to express their depression through anger, aggression, loss of control, social withdrawal, and harmful coping methods like drugs or alcohol (Source).

Myth 10: Depression develops in the 20s or 30s and goes away after people turn 40+.

This myth goes like this: Only adults in their 20s and 30s get depression.

Truth is, depression can develop at any age, from childhood to senior years.

While the risk for depression is higher during certain life stages, such as adolescence or after major life events, it can occur at any point in a person’s life and may persist if left untreated.

In fact, if depression is left untreated in the hope that it will go away on its own with age, depressive episodes can recur throughout the lifespan.

Fact 1: Depression is much more than just feeling sad.

Depression is not just sadness, but a complex, prolonged, and persistent state of psychological and physical symptoms.

To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), symptoms must persist for at least 2 weeks and significantly impair daily functioning.

SymptomDescription
Depressed moodPersistent feeling of sadness or low mood
Loss of interest and enjoymentLoss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
Reduced energy, easily fatiguedFeeling tired or exhausted easily
Marked tiredness on slight effortFeeling extremely tired even with minimal physical exertion
Reduced concentration and attentionDifficulty focusing or paying attention to tasks
Reduced confidence and self-esteemDecreased belief in oneself and low self-worth
Feeling of guilt and unworthinessExperiencing feelings of guilt or worthlessness
Bleak and pessimistic views of the futureNegative outlook on the future and hopelessness
Ideas or acts of self-destruction or suicideThoughts or behaviors related to self-harm or suicide
Disturbed sleepChanges in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or oversleeping
Diminished appetite and libidoDecreased appetite and reduced interest in sex
Unexplained physical symptomsExperience of physical symptoms without clear cause
Table: Symptoms of depression (Source: International Classification of Disease, WHO, 1992)

Once we realize that depression can affect children, adolescents, and people in their middle and late years, we would be open to seeking help. Those who seek timely help are more likely to prevent its relapse and limit its severity.

Fact 2: Depression is human vulnerability, not weakness.

Depression is not a sign of weakness, but a legitimate medical condition caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

It requires understanding and appropriate treatment, not judgment.

Fact 3: Depression is more complex than just snapping out of it.

Depression is not just any “blues” or low mood that one may simply “snap out of.” Telling someone to “snap out of it” dismisses the seriousness of the condition.

A sufferer requires professional treatment, support, and understanding from loved ones.

Final Words

Stress happens; it cannot be avoided entirely. However, adopting healthy coping strategies for dealing with stress can prevent both first onsets and recurrences of depression.

Depression is a treatable disorder. It must be diagnosed and treated like any other medical condition. But the harsh truth is that almost 70% of cases worldwide do not receive appropriate care.

When stressful life events occur, seek help from your friends, family, social group, or psychotherapy.

Together, let’s bring down the stigma around depression.


√ Also Read: How Relief After Stress Can Help You Prevent Depression

√ Please spread the word if you found this helpful.

Our Story!

...

When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns. Reaching out to a professional to feel better is a positive choice.