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Friday, January 31, 2014

Deconstructing a Couple of Myths and Misconceptions About Depression

Deconstructing a Couple of Myths and Misconceptions About Depression
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)

Depression affects over ten percent of our population, and I find that even though we live in a digital world where information is at our fingertips on how to deal with depression and/or other mental health issues, there are still many myths and misconceptions out there that need to be addressed.

The following are some of the myths that are associated with depression:

1) Depression isn’t a real illness 2) antidepressants can always cure depression 3) you can snap out of it 4) it happens because of a sad situation 5) if your parents have it, so will you 6) Antidepressants will change your personality 7) You’ll have to be on antidepressants forever 8) Depression only affects women and lastly 9) Talking about it only makes it worse.”(

Living with depression and/or other mental health issues is not easy. I know this all too well because it is a battle that I have fought since I was a teenager. It is something that I have to be cognizant of every day, because if I’m not careful, a relapse can send me spiraling back into negative patterns that I have worked like crazy to overcome.  This can mean slipping back into feeling such despair that I’m crying all the time, isolating myself, avoiding things, and/or trying to deal with negative and harmful thoughts. The real test is not acting upon the negative thoughts that can occupy my mind when my depression rears its ugly head.

There are two myths in particular that I would like to speak about. The first one is ‘you can snap out of it”. I deal with this myth quite a bit. Sometimes well meaning friends can say “hey, you just need to snap out it,” and then other times I find myself saying it to myself-even though I logically know its not as simple as snapping my fingers and making it disappear. 

Depression is a serious health condition, and I want to tell you that no one chooses to be depressed. I know I don’t.  No one wants to hurt so badly inside that they feel like they are in a darkness that they cannot get out of. Depression can be a darkness that consumes you and if you do not get help, sadly it can kill you.

People mistakenly think that depression is merely a result of a person wallowing in their grief or sadness and can be cured by thinking positively and making a change in ones attitude. If this were the case, then there would not be crisis units, psychiatric wards, psychiatrists or therapists. There wouldn’t be distress lines for people to call when they are in need of someone to talk to, nor would there be campaigns such as Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk”, “Partners for Mental Health” or the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the numerous services they offer. 

Addressing mental health issues and their myths and misconceptions is important for everyone to understand. I believe that unless we are all educated about mental health issues and illnesses there will always be a negative stigma attached to mental health. Depression is not a sign of weakness, laziness, or self-pity. It is a medical condition that arises from errors in your brain chemistry, function and structure due to environmental or biological factors. You don’t ask for depression, it just happens.

For those who battle depression, it is more than the occasional sad thought or unhappiness due to a death, a breakup or disappointment, even though these feelings can lead to depression, depression is experiencing such a low that you feel like you cannot function. Some of the signs include

  •  feeling lethargic- you are sleeping a lot or sleeping less
  •  you find it hard to do every day things-like getting out of bed and facing your day
  • you lose interest in what you love doing the most (in my case, it has been reading for fun and writing)
  • you inexplicably have thoughts of self harm
  • you are more anxious than usual
  • you feel like your life is out of control 
  • feel afraid and alone
  • you are using more drugs and alcohol to get through the day
  • you are feeling angry and lastly
  • feel like life is no longer worth living

A second misconception is that discussing depression merely reinforces destructive feelings and keeps a person focused on the negative. From my experience, being alone with my thoughts is much more harmful. Even though it is painful discussing what is getting to me, I find that a lot of times, I just need someone to listen, to hear me out, or even to just take the time to be with me, instead of avoiding me because I am feeling so low.

As a creative person, I’m a very quiet person. I’m used to putting pen to paper, instead of talking through things. Through therapy I am trying to learn how to voice how I feel, and though it is difficult, I realize it is something that I should have learned a long time ago. Having no voice, or believing that my voice did not matter was in how I was raised, and it takes works to learn something new. 

Having a supportive, reliable, and non-judgmental listener is critical in the treatment of depression. If you are finding yourself depressed or wanting to hurt yourself, seek treatment right away. Do not feel ashamed that you need to ask for help. Someone outside yourself may be able to help guide you to see things differently, and most of all find what works for you in a good way- writing, drawing, talking to a professional etc.

Another important thing to take note of, is if you have a relapse in your depression, try your hardest to not give into the negative stigma that we all know mental health has in our society. People who have mental health issues are all too aware of these stigmas and it is these stigmas that can prevent you from seeking the help you need if you should relapse.

Friends, family or health care workers can help you make a plan that may include: 

  • ways to help the person feel more in control of your life
  • referrals to other health care services
  • names of books and other things that can help explain what you are going through
  • information about shelters, support groups or community resources

For those in recovery with mental health issues, relapses can happen. Don't beat yourself up because of it. Stand strong, and tell yourself  " giving up is not an option and my recovery would be for nothing if I did not live up to the courage and the fight that got me to where I am today."

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