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Myths about Depression

6 Misunderstandings about Depression and its Treatments
  -- By Robin Donovan, Health Writer
Antidepressants make you fat. Depression only happens to weak-minded people. If your parents were depressed, you will be, too. Depressed people are just sad all the time. Do any of these sound familiar? They're all part of the many myths surrounding depression, one of a cluster of mood disorders that will impact 9.5% of the U.S. population in any given year. Below are six of the top fears and misunderstandings about depression and the facts that can help dispel them.

Depression Myth #1: Being depressed is all your fault.
If you have depression you may have been told to, "Snap out of it," or that you can "decide to feel better.” But it takes more than willpower to overcome clinical depression. We don't ask people with a cavity to fix their own tooth or expect someone with high blood pressure to resolve that issue on their own; it doesn't make sense to expect someone with depression to think their way out of their illness either. And depression is not merely a passing emotional state, but a distressing, perplexing condition that saps physical and emotional energy and can last much longer than a case of "the blues.”

Learn more about the various treatment options for depression.

Depression Myth #2: Depression is just a deeper form of sadness.
Prolonged and deep sadness can be symptoms of depression, but some people with depression never feel sad at all. Instead, they may feel listless, have trouble finding joy and fun in activities, or even spend a lot of time sleeping. Or, they may feel emotionally numb and empty or have difficulty connecting with others.

Because there are different types of depression, from seasonal depression to dysthymia (long-term, low-grade depression) to major depression, symptoms can vary from person to person. Even among people with the same type of depression, day-to-day symptoms can vary widely. One person's inability to sleep and concentrate can indicate depression, but so can a loss of self-confidence.
Depression is not merely sadness magnified. It is an illness unto itself, with sadness as one possible symptom.

Depression Myth #3: Depression is purely genetic.
Depression is complicated and we still don't understand exactly what causes it, but the fact is that people with no family history of depression can become depressed. And while depression does tend to run in families, having a family history of depression doesn't guarantee the illness will be in your future as well. Depression is correlated by a wide variety of risk factors, including personality traits (pessimism, low self-esteem), stressful life changes and chemical changes in the brain.

So, depression may be purely caused by genes in some people and by life events in others, but for many people, it's likely a combination of these factors. In other cases, there is no apparent cause and no stressful event that leads to an onset of depression. Sometimes, depression just happens to people for reasons we don't understand—and perhaps no "reason" at all.

Depression Myth #4: Antidepressants always cause weight gain.
Although weight gain is a common side effect of almost all antidepressant medications, it's not a fact of life for everyone or every medication. For example, tricyclic antidepressants (nortriptyline, amitriptyline and others) and the SSRI medication paroxetine (brand name, Paxil) are more likely to cause weight gain than the SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) drugs Effexor and Serzone.

Because medications don't cause the same side effects in everyone, talk to your doctor if you begin to gain weight while taking an antidepressant. It may be possible to switch to a different medication.

Learn more about preventing and dealing with weight gain due to antidepressants.

Depression Myth #5: Depression will go away with time.
Depression might go away on its own, but most people show improvement (and resolve their symptoms faster) with treatment, including various forms of talk therapy, medication, exercise and other therapies. You don't have to be severely depressed to take advantage of these treatments.

If you feel overwhelmed, start with your family physician or internist, or even a medical practitioner at a general care clinic. These professionals are trained to provide basic depression screenings and can help you find further assistance if needed.

Remember that depression can make it harder to get help, too, because symptoms like low energy and poor self-esteem can make it seem as if your problem isn't worth addressing or that you don't deserve help. If in doubt, ask a friend, family member or confidant to help you stay motivated to seek medical attention if you've been experiencing symptoms of depression. You don't have to suffer alone.

Depression Myth #6: Once you're depressed, you can never get better.
Yes, there's treatment-resistant depression and experiencing one major depressive episode makes it more likely that you will experience another episode in the future, but new research is showing that medication and psychotherapy, together, are often more effective than either of these treatments alone for people with hard-to-treat types of depression.

If you've recently been diagnosed with depression, don't let others' expectations and uninformed beliefs about depression overshadow the advice of your physician, psychologist or psychiatrist. Shake off the idea that depression is your fault, or that you somehow brought it on yourself due to bad habits.
 
Depression's many causes will take more research to unravel, but researchers have already found a host of ways to help people with depression feel better. Thanks to this expanded medical research and increased public knowledge on the topic, depression doesn't carry the stigma it once did, a stigma that stopped many people from speaking up and getting the help they needed and deserved. You don't have to wait until you can no longer get out of bed or feel suicidal to get the help you need to increase your quality of life, either. Let go of depression's myths and stick to the facts; you'll be on your way to a healthier, happier life.

Sources
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Harvard Health Publications, "Chronic Depression Requires Intensive Approach," www.health.harvard.edu, accessed on June 11, 2013.

Mayo Clinic, "Depression," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on June 11, 2013.

Michalak EE, Lam RW. "Breaking the myths: new treatment approaches for chronic depression." Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2002 Sep;47(7):635-43.

National Institute of Mental Health, "Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America," www.nimn.nih.gov, accessed on June 11, 2013.

National Institute of Mental Health, "What to Do When a Friend is Depressed," www.nimn.nih.gov, accessed on June 11, 2013.

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