"But you look fine" and other myths about depression, busted
An expert on all the things we get wrong about depression
It’s a common statement people with depression have heard over and over again. I’ve wondered how one looks depressed exactly. Is it a constant stream of tears, poor hygiene, deep dark circles and straggly hair? How we’re supposed to ‘behave depressed’ is one of the most popular myths about depression that need to be debunked.
Depression is one of the silent killers of our times affecting around 200 million Indians, but until recently, didn’t really make the cut for national discourse. The myths about depression floating around don’t help either, often scaring people into not seeking help.
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way that depression manifests in people,” says therapist Ambika Mallah. “For some, it can be sudden feelings of hopelessness, insomnia and fatigue, others can experience a loss of appetite, mood swings, loss of interest in things they’d otherwise enjoy doing like going out, meeting friends, their work and hobbies.”
In the same vein, there isn’t a single fix for it either, another one of the myths about depression.
One person could experience symptoms the other doesn’t, but regardless of their position on the severity scale, there are similarities.
We’ve put together a handy book of explanations for the most common myths about depression that you can use to guide your understanding of the mental health disorder.
Debunking the most common myths about depression
“Everyone feels sad sometimes, it’s not a big deal”
Depression is most easily confused with sadness. While experts believe there can be similarities in how people experience the two, sadness is an emotion and depression a diagnosable disorder.
“Like any emotion, sadness is passing. There is a certain situation/triggering experience that causes it and whether through crying or yelling, these emotions can be expelled. Depression is an ailment. It persists, it can worsen and requires treatment,” says Mallah.
You may feel tremendous sadness and grief after a terrible experience like losing your job or a loved one. You’d feel hopeless, cry all the time, lose interest in daily activities, but in time, you’d come to terms with it and these feelings would diminish.
“When it lasts more than three-four weeks or worsens, becomes debilitating and interferes with your daily functioning, then you should seek a counsellor and medical help.”
“But nothing major has happened, why would you be depressed?”
It doesn’t need to be a major life event or trauma that causes depression. Depression can be triggered but it can also arise out of the blue when everything else in your life seems to be hunky-dory.
“We’re talking about depression as clinical depression or major depressive disorder. It is a mood disorder which you can have a predisposition to if mental illnesses run in the family. If it’s something you have experienced before in your life, you could be more prone to it,” she adds.
Mallah reiterates the difference between your emotions and mood disorders which are not within a person’s control.
“Just keep yourself busy and exercise, you’ll snap out of it”
You can shake off a depression disorder as much as you can a thyroid disorder. It doesn’t work that way, does it?
“A burst of happy hormones from a good diet and exercise never hurt anyone. Of course, it makes you feel better. Some clients are so crippled by depression that they can’t get out of bed. You have no interest in leaving the house or jogging and going to the gym. It’s not as simple as just doing some jumping jacks, but it won’t harm you either,” says Mallah.
When it comes to treatment, it can be one or a combination of different kinds of psychotherapy, medication and lifestyle changes.
“You’ll get through it if you just stay strong”
Mental health struggles are not indicative of a character flaw or weakness in personality no matter what comment someone in your family passes when you open up about your struggle.
This is not a pile of dishes that you can power through and be done with.
“Left untreated, it can leave a person in a mentally debilitating mindset which can drive them to self-harm and suicidal thoughts,” says Mallah.
Unlike sadness, anger or boredom, you can’t wish it away with a change of scenery or hobby. “This is a medical condition that’s a disorder of the brain involving its functioning, structure and chemical imbalances.”
View this post on Instagram
“But she seems fine”
Would you have ever thought that the man who made the world laugh, beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams had struggled with depression for a long time before he died by suicide?
Depression has many faces – some smiling, some crying. “They’ve learned to wear these masks with happy faces so well. You can never tell what’s going on behind it,” says Mallah.
A person could also have depression and be high-functioning, turning in those assignments on time, making it to meetings and friends’ weddings with a silent struggle no one else gets to see.
“You’ll get hooked onto those medicines and abuse them”
Some of the most common myths about depression, and the most difficult to overcome, according to Mallah, surround medication.
Understandably, you’re scared about trying something when you don’t fully understand it. There are many different kinds of antidepressants. Psychiatrists go through years of training to be able to analyse and deduce from your interactions what can work best for you.
“Only psychiatrists can prescribe medication. There is a trial-and-error period, which is what people usually get fed up with when it comes to medicines. One pill might work great for you and do absolutely nothing for your friend. It’s different for different people,” explains Mallah.
“Trust in professionals, we know what we’re doing. If you’re still worried, talk it out with your doctor. We’re not all crooks trying to get you hooked onto pills that harm you.”
In a lot of cases, the therapy itself can help you overcome your depression. In other cases, it works in conjunction with medication which is eventually tapered off. Contrary to popular belief, you’ll rarely abuse or OD on antidepressants.
“Everything is carefully monitored by your doctor, with the end goal being to get you functioning without any crutches of therapy or medicine.”