Many people come to therapy seeking help for their depression. They ask questions like:
- “I wish I were capable of dealing with life like a normal person. Why is my brain so incompetent?”
- “I feel so guilty about being depressed when I see that there are so many who lead a much harder life than I do. Why am I so self-obsessed?”
- “I understand that my lack of initiative at work is because of my depression. Why do I still feel like I am making excuses for myself?”
If you’ve ever been depressed, you know how impairing it can be. Depression can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning, impossible to concentrate, and cause you to lose interest in activities you used to enjoy. It’s no wonder that depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.
Despite its prevalence, there are still some myths about depression that can make treating it difficult.
Myth #1. Depression is all about brain chemistry
When people think of depression, they think of it as a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be fixed through medication. But this line of thinking shuts the door to several effective models of treating depression.
While it’s true that depression is linked to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, there’s more to it than that.
Depression often follows trouble in a person’s social environment. For instance, people who experience stressful life changes have a risk of developing depression.
As humans, we are wired to be more sensitive to negative events rather than positive or neutral ones. This is called negativity bias.
Negativity sells, so the media embraces it. Enabled by the impact of social media and the internet, this overexposure to negativity explains why many people develop negative thought patterns. This could be a precursor to depression.
Another leading situational factor that can precede depression is poor close relationships. For example:
- Is this person in an abusive romantic relationship?
- Does this person have a difficult relationship with their parents?
- What is their work environment like?
When it comes to treating the condition, it’s important to look at a depressed person as more than just a sum total of their imbalanced neurotransmitters. While drug therapy is useful, combining it with psychotherapy usually leads to the best results.
Myth #2. Depressed people want to self-isolate
Yes, depressed people tend to isolate themselves. They often:
- Don’t show up to work
- Neglect their personal hygiene
- Ignore their friends and family
But what we must understand is that they have a mental health condition that makes it difficult for them to reconnect with society as a healthy person would.
It is not that they have decided to check out of society. Rather, their depression can make it appear (to others and themselves) as though they have.
One study published in Psychological Bulletin suggests that individuals who are prone to depression are, in fact, highly sensitive to negative social interactions. Many depressive symptoms, like self-isolation, could be understood as a way to minimize social risk. Another study published in Emotion revealed that depressed people often experience a dulling of their reactions to both positive and negative social cues.
It is possible that highly sensitive individuals unconsciously respond to difficult social environments by withdrawing into the ‘protective shell’ of depression.
If you want to help someone who is depressed and isolating themselves, don’t offer them toxic positivity. Avoid saying futile things like:
- You do you
- It could be worse
- Think happy thoughts
Instead, remind them, in subtle ways, that you care for them. Sometimes, depressed people just want to be heard and understood, not ‘fixed.’ So, give them your undivided attention when they decide to reach out.
You could also offer to help in specific ways. For example, you could ‘happen’ to be at their favorite restaurant and call in to check if they want some food brought over. Little gestures of love matter to people, and depressed people are no exception.
Familiarize yourself with the myths surrounding depression. It is a complex mental illness with many different causes and symptoms. If you think you might be depressed, it’s important to talk to a therapist or mental health professional who can help you get the treatment you need. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help.