Here is an article I wrote for Health Collective, an online resource for conversations and information about Mental health, including a section in Hindi (a sensitive initiative, considering so many in our country cannot connect with the English language).
This article is on Myths about Depression and what patients must know instead. The link to this article is here.
Myth 1: Depression = Sadness
Not True. Probably the most common thing I have heard in clinical practice is the assumption that any sad/dull/low feeling can be labelled “depression”. This is because people confuse any sadness with Depression. So I spend time educating patients that sadness is a healthy negative emotion, which is natural during a loss. Even high levels of sadness do not interfere with our daily functioning. Depression is a mental illness that interferes with functioning and is unhealthy for the brain and body.
Myth 2: It’s in the person’s control and they can “snap out of it”
Family members usually feel that if the person focusses on work, or socialises and watches cheerful movies, that their depression or anxiety will “go away”. For this, I help patients by showing them a brain chart of PET scans that indicate changes in brain activity that accounts for their mood and behaviour. Medical and psychological intervention is needed for a mental illness. Once the person receives the right amount of treatment their mood will improve, they will return to their previous levels of activity and happiness.
Myth 3: Depressed people “look” depressed
Depression is an umbrella term which includes an array of conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia, Depressive personality, double depression, Bipolar Depressive episodes. Apart from this a person may also have specific discrete episodes such as Post-Partum Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some of these conditions do not have symptoms associated with the common man’s perception of depression — which is lying in bed all day, low energy, weight loss, low mood or suicidal feelings. Many high functioning depressive people learn to “mask” their depression well, so only a trained professional can identify it. Never go by appearance alone.
Myth 4: Mental illness (especially depression) only happens to socio-economically challenged (poor) people
The truth is that a bank balance, large home and well-paying job is not insurance against depression. Depression can hit anyone, at anytime. Mental illness is a complex inter-play of genetics, environment and a person’s psychological make-up.
Myth 5: Medication is addictive and life-long
There are so many myths surrounding medication. For example, “We will get addicted to medication”, “It will make me put on weight”, “Only crazy people need meds” etc. It’s important to understand that medication, just like mental illness, cannot all be clubbed as one. There are many variations.
• Certain medication such as benzodiazepines, prescribed for insomnia and anxiety, do have addictive properties and are thus given only briefly to most patients
• Mood stabilisers, anti-psychotics and anti-depressants are other classes of medication that need to be carefully prescribed depending on the nature of illness
I usually educate patients that the “benefits of medications far outweigh the side-effects”. If medication is needed to stabilise mood and reduce symptoms, then it is better to have them rather than continue to suffer. Also, there is no one-size fits all medication, one should leave a psychiatrist to decide which meds are the best.
Myth 6: If one tries really hard they can “overcome” depression/anxiety on their own
Just like one can’t try hard to overcome cancer or a fractured foot without medical intervention, mental illness too needs to be viewed as a disease that requires intervention. Also, much like with any disease, such as a heart condition, a person with mental illness too needs to monitor their lifestyle to see improvement. However just lifestyle changes are not sufficient to reduce the symptoms of mental illness.