Fighting misconceptions about depression

Friday, May 23, 2008

What exactly is depression? It's becoming a more and more common diagnosis these days. According to, nearly 10 percent of the American population is clinically depressed. Most people think of depression as a temporary "blue" period, which goes away on its own eventually. That's because most people have a down period at least once in their life, but it goes away and better times come. Clinical depression is something different entirely. Even people who appear to be normal may be suffering from it, and it is not something which an individual can will away. Despite the myths that abound, antidepressants do not turn people into emotionless zombies, though they are not magic cures.

The first misconception about depression generally goes something like this: "Him? Depressed? You've got to be kidding me, he's the happiest person I know." Just because somebody is smiling and laughing on the outside does not necessarily mean that they aren't being slowly tortured and eaten up by depression on the inside. Remember, one in 10 people suffers from depression. That's a lot of people, and you can't always spot them. It's not as though a clinically depressed person walks around glumly all the time, though in some cases an individual may become so depressed that they can no longer function. Many depressed people appear to be functioning quite normally, however, and only those closest to them know the pain that they are going through.

Another common misconception is that a depressed person can "snap out of it" or "just cheer up" or "suck it up." Depression is the result of an actual chemical imbalance in the brain, and it is not possible for an individual to change his or her body chemistry without medication. Generally, what happens in depression is that a key neurotransmitter, serotonin, is not functioning properly. Medications prescribed for depression are generally serotonin uptake inhibitors, which means that they keep serotonin from being reabsorbed too quickly, allowing it to remain in the nervous system for the proper amount of time. You would never expect a diabetic to "snap out of it," and it is ridiculous to expect a clinically depressed individual to without the aid of medication.

Perhaps the most destructive of delusions about depression, misconceptions about medication prevent many depressed people from seeking medical treatment. It is commonly believed that antidepressants work by stifling all emotion, both good and bad. This misconception stems from the early antidepressants, which did in fact do that. However, medicine has advanced since then, and modern-day antidepressants allow an individual to feel a full range of emotions, including the bad ones. But they give an individual the ability to cope normally with the day-to-day ups and downs of life without being cast down into such intensely negative moods.

Another misconception about medication is that the first kind of pill that a psychiatrist or doctor tries will be the right pill and make all of a person's problems magically disappear. This is not true. An antidepressant is not like an antibiotic, that a person takes for 10 days and then is all better. Healing from depression is a long uphill battle of climbing out a pit, one step at a time. The antidepressant just makes the journey a little bit easier, like a walking stick makes an uphill journey more bearable.

However, it is no misconception at all that depressed people are in serious need of social support. One of my college friends once came to me in a panic, asking a question about her boyfriend, who had been diagnosed with clinical depression. "He wants to be alone all the time! He doesn't want to see me until he 'figures this out.' He's afraid that his depression is hurting me and bringing me down, so he doesn't want to spend hardly any time with me." My friend was right to be concerned about her boyfriend's behavior, which is called isolation.

During isolation, a depressed person withdraws from their social support group, which only deepens their depression. Thoughts of being an unwanted burden abound during this phase, and unfortunately, so may thoughts of suicide. What I told my friend was that she needed to give her boyfriend his space (because everyone needs their space now and then), but not allow him to withdraw entirely from social contact. What people in this phase of depression need to know is that they are not an unwanted burden on their friends, and especially need to know that they are loved and wanted.

Depression affects everyone a little bit differently, and often requires either medication, counseling, or both as a form of treatment. But with depression becoming more and more common in our society today, a little information about depression can go a long way for anyone. To learn more about depression, visit

The bottom line: Depression is a serious medical condition that requires treatment just like any other medical condition. Always provide love and support to anyone you know who is depressed.

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