5 Myths About Depression That Annoy the Hell Out of Me

Even though clinical depression affects about 10% of the population, it amazes me to see the lingering stigmas associated with it.  I suppose I should be glad that there are people who just don’t get it – that means they’ve never had to, and I hope they never do.  These are ideas I run into time and again, and if you’ll notice, they tend to be variations on the theme of “people with depression should just get over themselves.”

You can probably guess that my knee-jerk response to that involves a lot of curse words.  In the interest of fostering understanding on the subject, however, here are some more…thought-out responses.

1. Depression is something you can “snap out of.”

I’ve heard this one about a thousand times, and never from someone who has actually had depression.  If you can “snap out of it” by “thinking positive,” then you may have been depressed, but you didn’t have depression.  There is a difference, though it’s really more of a continuum than a dividing line.

Everyone gets depressed.  Sadness and even despair are part of the human condition.  But there are people who, for whatever reason, are unable to emerge from that sadness for long periods of time, or who go into a spiral without any outside stimuli.  Their brains are wired up all funky and they don’t maintain a balance of chemicals like seratonin and dopamine.  Their transmissions get stuck in park.  Healthy levels of emotion become distorted, and despair slowly consumes everything else.

For a lot of people there are underlying emotional issues that feed into that imbalance, and addressing those issues can help stop the depression from recurring and can help other therapies work better and faster.  But when it gets to the point that you can’t get out of bed, there is no snapping out of it.  All the New-Agey affirmations in the world aren’t enough, sometimes – sometimes you have to call out the big guns.

Ideally no one would ever get to that point.  Ideally we’d live in a world where emotional problems were dealt with at onset and no one felt the need to bottle up their problems until they become toxic.  But guess what?  This is a messed up world and we are a messed up people.

The efficacy of talking therapy is actually subject to debate.  Not everyone benefits from sharing their innermost problems with a paid professional.  A great many people do.  A lot of people benefit from both therapy and drugs.  Emotional problems are never simple, and a single approach, whether pharmaceutical or otherwise, is rarely enough.  You have to be willing to come at it from all sides and find the combination of therapies that works for you.

2. If you take antidepressants it’s because you can’t or won’t deal with your own problems.

I take antidepressants because I want to function.  I want to get out of bed.  I want to hold down a job.  I want to engage with my friends and family and I want to have the energy and desire to leave my house.

I have what is known as treatment-resistant depression, so it’s possible that I’ll never be able to do those things without help.  Once I got over the notion that this meant I was somehow more, or less, broken than the average person, I was able to look at it as a manageable health condition rather than a judgment about my character.  I’ve been on some form of antidepressant for about 80% of the last 13 years, and truthfully I probably should have been before that.  Some people have depression for six months or a year, are treated, work through it, and never have to deal with it again; for some it recurs; for others it never goes away, and is always lurking in the corner.

I come from a pharmaceutical family, so I have long understood that drugs, like every other kind of medical intervention, are powerful and important tools.  They don’t substitute for healthy living – a triple bypass doesn’t just undo 40 years of cheeseburgers – but they have their place and have saved countless lives.  Are Americans over-reliant on prescription medications, thanks in large part to the pharmaceutical industry itself?  Hell yes.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone who takes antidepressants is some kind of weak, self-indulgent yuppie.

Depression is a mental health condition.  Like any health condition it requires treatment, and left untreated can cause all manner of consequences up to and including death.  You wouldn’t expect someone to just suck it up and deal with cancer, would you?  Then why should an emotional cancer be treated the way “female hysteria” used to be?  Just because something is “all in your head” doesn’t make it any less debilitating.

3. Antidepressants turn you into a zombie.

They can, if you’re on the wrong one.  People often don’t realize just how many antidepressants there are out there, and more importantly how different everyone’s brain is.  The main class of drugs, SSRIs, comprises a dozen or more drugs, and each one works differently for each person.  The first one you take might not work, or it might work but not very well.  You may need to adjust your dosage or change drugs completely.  You may have the common side effects or some wild and crazy new ones.  One size does not fit all.  You’re looking for a key that will fit in your particular lock.

4.  Antidepressants can “fix” you.

Antidepressants are powerful drugs that can alter your entire way of existing in the world; they can nudge you out of a downward spiral that could very well take your life.  They can help restore the color to life and help you feel strong enough to take a deeper look at what’s going on beneath the inertia.

But they can’t fix it.  They can’t make the bad things in your life go away, or make you love yourself, or make your relationships healthy.  They are not a magic wand, and they don’t work for everyone.  And while I’m a big believer in their judicious use, I don’t think they’re something to just jump into without a bit of research and a long conversation with your doctor.

I think that’s where a lot of people get tripped up; they think that antidepressants can make your problems go poof and suddenly unicorns and rainbows shoot out of your every orifice.  The only thing I know of that can do that is LSD, and it’s really not something I’d recommend for everyday use.

5.  You shouldn’t medicate depression because it’s trying to tell you something–it’s good for you!  It makes you more creative!  All you really need to do is go vegan/do yoga/meditate/pray.

With all due respect, kiss my asana.

I believe that all life experiences have the potential to teach us, and that we can gain a lot of positives from even the worst negative, but this goes back to Myth #2, and it infuriates me.  Sentiments like these tend to come from, as I said, people who’ve never dealt with depression themselves; or people who found a therapy that worked for them and are now evangelizing it.

No, we shouldn’t medicate every negative emotion; and by and large people in America don’t know how to feel in the first place.  We tend to stuff and suppress everything by buying into consumer culture thinking that more food, more possessions, and more money are a substitute for genuine experience.  But while emotions are what make us human, screwed up brain chemistry is not the same thing – clinical depression means that your emotions are not in accord with your circumstances.  You could be having the best year of your life and it would barely register; in fact chances are you’d feel guilty on top of everything else for not having that “attitude of gratitude” that spirituality bloggers love to talk about.

In fact that tends to happen with lifestyle-related depression “fixes;” you try them, can’t maintain the change because of your depression, and are left feeling worse, because now not only are you depressed, you’re a failure.  This is why I say that there’s no single healing modality that banished depression.  If you want to recover from it, you need to take a more holistic approach.  It may be that you need to start with drugs, which lift the clouds enough that you feel able to take the next step, whatever that step is for you.

My observation is that the best overall treatment for depression is a combination of healthy diet, exercise, meditation, some kind of emotional expression (which may be talking therapy, writing, art, et cetera), and learning your symptoms well enough to know when things are getting bad, hopefully enabling you to nip recurrences in the bud.  This is easier said than done, of course – I haven’t quite managed it yet.  But like all healing, it’s a process, and takes a lot of baby steps, some of which end up going backward.  The trick is not to judge yourself for needing help.  It’s true that our society is toxic, and that societal factors play a huge role in the upswing of mental and physical illness (just look at how many things we declare “war” on in the news every day – cancer, obesity, drugs, depression, you name it).  But take it from me:  you can’t change the world if you can’t get out of bed.  Healing, as with regime change, begins at home.

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23 thoughts on “5 Myths About Depression That Annoy the Hell Out of Me

  1. Thank you for writing this. I am glad I ran across it. I am 28 and have suffered from depression for many years since i was a young teenager.
    But I am especially bad right now when I shouldn’t be because my boyfriend is wonderful and has his own successful business, he just bought me our first owned home, And I’m a mother of 3 amazing precious children. I was taking antidepressants and they worked some days but they caused acid reflux bad that I was equally miserable throughout the day n night Am’s couldn’t eat or drink. I’ve been telling myself that I shouldn’t have to rely on medication to make it through life. But now I’m willing ti go try a different doctor who might actually listen to me. or be willing ti try and change my meds . I never viewed clinical depression as comparable to diabetes or cancer treatments. I suppose I will “get over myself” and try to find the right antidepressant for myself. . Thanks for the encouragement

  2. I tried many “fixes” Especially Religious ones. Nothing worked for any length of time. For 15 years I tried to drink it away. Alcohol wasn’t my problem it was my solution. It was a solution that doesn’t work but a solution nonetheless. Now I take meds. Have a very strict diet & exercise plan, I haven’t had a drink in 15 years & I am felling better than I ever remember. It can be done. It’s not easy but it is worth it.

  3. I used to get so Board listening to one of my closest Friends Everytime she would have a real low Depressing time with her Bi Poler Depression, I would just tell her to get over it allready!!! Boy was I an Ass! You dont know just how depression controls Others until you acrually feel it, You are the Prisoner and you cant just leave when you want to! I myself have Bi Poler Depression, not as extreme as alot of People, I dont have real Highs and Lows. Im always about the Same, I have tried so many times to get off of the meds but I have to use them, If I dont Im hateful and well its all Bad. I used to think I was just weak that I should be able to deal with life like everyone else, But thats not the case, You just have to work with your Drs and get on the meds that are right for you Meds by no means fix Everything. they just help you get through One Day at a time. There are Different types of Depression, some People cant even function normally in society and some just have a mild case that is helped easily with meds, Im somewhere in the Middle I function Pretty well until I get overwhelmed and then I get Panic Attacks, but Im going to Keep going! you cant give up!Depression Makes People its Prissoner Every Day, You Cannot just walk away when youve had enough! So If you Dont have It Dont Judge Because you dont know the Dispare that is being felt by your Friend, Family member or other<3 The kindest thing you can do is Care and Listen<3

  4. THANK YOU! I have struggled with drug addiction for most of my life. I’ve been clean for almost 8 months now and am suffering with depression. With research, I’ve learned that all the years of drug abuse have depleted my brain of the naturally occuring chemicals that make you “feel good”. Some say that I will never produce these chemicals again but I hope a pray that’s not true. I don’t have any medical insurance so I am unable to get antidepressants prescribed to me. I have good days and bad days, but suicide invades my thoughts on a daily basis. I would never try to hurt myself, but it seems as if I don’t have any control over these morbid thoughts entering my brain. I have faith and hope that I will get through this and life will get better. I will not give up on happiness. Reading your article gives me added hope, it’s good to know that I’m not alone in my suffering. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  5. Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling with some form of depression for years, but have only just made the solid firm decision to call my doctor and sort something out. The fact that no-one believed what I was going through has been the greatest barrier to getting help. So many people I’ve confided in have told me that ‘I must have been happy!’ or asked me if I’m sure I need counselling &c, which really made me doubt whether what I’ve been going through has been important enough to be addressed by a professional. Especially, since I’ve been told this by people who have had depression and have sought help.
    My response to ‘it’s all in your head’? ‘Well, that’s where I live.’

  6. I wish read this earlier as in a few weeks earlier. Though I have not been seen a doctor about this; but I suspect that I may be suffering from depression. Even if I may not officially have depression, I think I am at a huge risk. To wake up everyday is a struggle, particularly when one wishes to never wake up from the slumber. The only reason is I still got out of bed is that I forced myself to do it. Yet, it’s getting harder and harder everyday; I don’t know how long more I can do this. The reaper whispers into my mind on the idea of suicide practically everyday too. Though I’m still able to carry out my daily life, this negative feelings are gradually becoming obstacles… However, I’m surrounded by people who claims that “It’s nothing” and giving me a lecture on why people should not seek drugs and professional help (as you have listed the 5 myths). I tried their suggestions, but none of them worked and I felt like a failure that it didn’t work out. I logically think about my life and I know well that it is more blessed than most people; however gratefulness just don’t help me in relieving these negative feelings at all (Then a lot of people start accusing me of being ungrateful about my life). It’s difficult when people around don’t understand.

  7. Thanks Dianne,
    for your insightful & gutsy observations.
    So many think ‘this’ only happens to ‘them’- those ‘other’people.
    Statistcally it obviously happens to ‘us’- society, pretty commonly, & the tragedy is when stigma prevents us from seeking/accessing whatever help we may need.
    Kind regards,
    From a druid working in mental health.

  8. Diane, thanks for writing this. I actually forwarded it to my parents because they, especially my dad, do not understand what I am dealing with. And if one more person tells me to just “decide to be happy” things are going to get messy. Thanks for a thoughtfully written piece.

  9. My mother is depressed (with suicidal ideation). I was on antidepressants for five years. My grandmother probably should be on them. People who say shit like “you only take drugs because you can’t deal with real life” PISS. ME. OFF. It’s like saying that anorexics should just eat or schizophrenics should calm down. Fuck you.

    I’m grateful that my family has been/was so supportive when I asked to go to the doctor and that my doctor was like, “totally” when I asked for meds.

    I wish these stigmas could be dispelled with the wave of a magic wand (I should try that…). Until then, armed with my BA in Psychology and love of biological psych, I’m doing my part to educate people on a one-by-one basis.

    Thank you for writing this!

  10. The stigma is awful. I suffered for several years as a teenager being told to “shake it off” or “buck up” before I finally got to go to a doctor. Even for several years after, I had family that thought I was making it up or faking.

    I say that it is like diabetes. It’s an imbalance of chemicals in the body, that needs to be regulated by medication. Exercise, diet, etc can help to some extent (for both of these conditions), but for some people, not enough.

  11. Thank you, Sylvan. Once again, you have put all my thoughts into words like NO one else on the planet could. I wish I could have had this to send to someone *cough* a few days ago.

  12. Every time my sister or some other chuckle head told me to go work out so I could get over my depression, I just wanted to slit their instead of my own. As someone who hits the gym daily, I can say exercise absolutely helps with the day-to-day stress and general ups and downs … but no amount of treadmilling or weight lifting in the world can cure clinical depression. Period.

  13. I can’t thank you enough. A lot of your writing has been really helpful for me–as a vegetarian who thinks a lot about veganism (darn you cheese for sucking me back in every time!), a witch who is going through a dark night of the soul, and a frequently depressed person, I sometimes feel that you and I have been to the same places. It’s funny–even your two books came out at a time in my life when I really needed them! We don’t know each other exactly, but I follow you on facebook and here because I think if I knew you in real life you’d rock my socks off even more. Just reading about your responses to your life have made me feel a little less alone in the world.

  14. Well said, sister, well said.

    The sad fact is, if one’s brain does not function well chemically, one’s life if pretty much f*cked. That’s something that’s difficult to fix with diet or supplements, although they can be extremely helpful and occasionally do provide the answer.

    If medication is required, this needs to be approached carefully: as you say, there’s a fine line between “effective” and “zombie.” It’s wonderful to live in a time when these medications are less hammer-to-the-forehead than they once were. They should still be approached very carefully, however.

    And people who dismiss me because, in the past, I’ve used these meds? Oh, they can so kiss my asana. Especially the Downward Dog.

  15. my husband and i as well as our 15 yo daughter all deal with depression and make use of meds and some degree of therapy as well

    thank u for dispelling these myths!!

  16. Well said. I retweeted this and hope everyone on my list reads it. I too am sick of these myths.

    I couldn’t snap out of it, and yes, I felt like a hell of a failure. Plus, the more other fixes I tried, the more things didn’t work, the more I felt like a failure.

    Thank you for writing this.

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