Awareness has improved, yet some myths about depression persist.
People are talking publicly about their own struggles with depression now more than ever before. Still, some stubborn myths about depression persist.
Mental health myths can be dangerous because they perpetuate stigma. Throughout history, people have discriminated against and even criminalized those with mental health conditions. As a result, many people today still fear getting help for depression because they worry about the stigma of treatment. Untreated, depression can worsen and become a threat to the person’s safety.
Common Myths About Depression
MYTH: Depression only affects “weak” people.
Some people believe that depression is a character flaw or a moral failing, and it only happens to “weak” people. In reality, depressive mood can happen to anyone. It has nothing to do with strength, and you can’t just “muscle through” it.
This myth can prevent people from getting the treatment they need because of the false belief that depression is simply part of their character. Without professional help, many people see their symptoms worsen. This can increase their risk of substance misuse, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.
Treatment for depression often involves psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Some lifestyle changes (such as exercising regularly and reducing alcohol intake) can also help.
MYTH: Depression is contagious.
There is some type of social influence that may cause people in the same home or social circle to develop depression. There may be multiple people in one family, friend group, or workspace who experience depression.
However, this is not the same as depression being infectious. It may simply have to do with sharing similar social factors. For example, people may share environments that do not foster good mental health. Similarly, they may be victims of the same abusive friend or family member.
MYTH: Depression is just sadness.
This is incorrect. For starters, there are a wide range of symptoms of depression, including:
- Loss of pleasure and interest in things they used to enjoy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Slowed-down movements or speech
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Eating more or less than usual
- Lethargy and lack of motivation
What's more, sadness isn’t always the best way to describe depression. Many people actually describe their predominant state as “apathetic.” Instead of feeling sad, they’re feeling nothing. Others describe their state as a lack of positive emotions.
Finally, sadness is an emotion, but depression is a disease associated with actual biological changes in the brain. These changes may prevent cells from functioning normally.
MYTH: Depression only happens after a traumatic event.
Depression may occur after the sudden loss of a loved one, for example, but sometimes it occurs for no apparent reason. It can stem from genetics, a major life change, a separate medical problem, or substance use. Sometimes, even certain medications or underlying medical conditions can increase your risk of depression.
Learning More About Depression
If you or someone you know has depression, it is important to understand what it is and how it is treated. That might mean unlearning some of the common myths about depression. Talk to your doctor about your questions, or check out these other topics:
- Find out how symptoms of depression may vary by gender.
- Here are common myths about depression in teens.
- Find out the difference between depression and bipolar disorder here.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential help 24 hours a day.
Marc Lener, MD, is a psychiatrist and founder of the Singula Institute in New York City
- Depression. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health. (Accessed on March 24, 2021)
- Here’s what people get wrong about depression. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Accessed on March 24, 2021)
- Mental health conditions: depression and anxiety. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on March 24, 2021)
- Unipolar depression in adults: epidemiology. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2021. (Accessed on March 24, 2021)