Depression affects more than 280 million people worldwide, yet sufferers face discrimination stemming from misinformation and ignorance about the condition. On World Mental Health Day, we dispel 8 myths about the disorder with the help of a psychologist and offer tips for how to help people with depression.
Kim Chan, a 33-year-old teacher living in Hong Kong, knows firsthand the devastating impact of depression. After a betrayal by a romantic partner she trusted and depended on, Kim was diagnosed with depression, and the symptoms hit her swiftly and severely.
“I experienced panic attacks, was unable to eat or sleep, felt anxious all the time, and couldn’t be alone at home. My body felt so weak I could barely stand or walk, and I didn’t want to live anymore,” she recalls. Realizing how much her emotions were affecting her life, she sought mental health counseling and has been on the road to recovery for three years. However, she’s tired of facing discrimination because of her depression.
“I was dating a new partner, and his friend found out about my depression. He warned my partner against marrying me, saying that if we had children together, they’d turn out ‘crazy’,” she says. “Depressed people are perceived as mentally weak or lazy and are often made to feel like their illness is their fault. There’s even a stigma attached to seeing a therapist for mental health support. Many people with depression don’t like to discuss their condition because they worry that it might affect their career or relationships. I only shared my diagnosis with a few people whom I trusted, but sometimes my openness was met with unhelpful or dismissive statements like, ‘What have you got to be depressed about? Your life is good, you should be thankful you’re not in a war zone or living in poverty.’ It would be nice if society understood that depression is like any physical injury or sickness and showed empathy and compassion towards people like me.”
Depression is a complex and often misunderstood condition. Dr. Adrian Low, a Hong Kong-based psychologist, explains that it involves a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Lack of education about this complex condition has allowed misinformation to take root and perpetuate the stigma surrounding it. On this World Mental Health Day, October 10, let’s debunk eight of the most prevalent myths about depression.
- Depression is not a ‘real’ illness: Depression is indeed a real illness, recognized by mental health professionals and medical organizations worldwide. It affects both mental and physical health, with associations to conditions like cardiovascular disease, compromised immune system functioning, sleep disturbances, and chronic pain.
- You can ‘snap out of’ a depressive episode: Depression is not a temporary feeling of sadness that can be overcome by sheer willpower. It’s a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities, often requiring a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes for treatment.
- Depression only affects certain types of people: Depression doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, education, income, or other demographic factors. Even individuals who seem to have fulfilling lives can experience depression.
- Depression is a sign of weakness: People with depression are not weak; this condition can affect even the strongest and most resilient individuals. Compassion, understanding, and support are essential.
- Depression is passed from parent to child: While there is a higher risk of developing depression with a family history of the condition, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop it. Genetic factors are just one piece of the puzzle.
- Depression is untreatable: Effective treatments for depression exist, including psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Finding the right treatment approach may take time and professional guidance.
- Talking about your depression will only make it worse: Discussing difficult feelings is crucial for healing. Opening up to trusted individuals can provide relief, validation, and support.
- The best help for someone with depression is to cheer them up: Instead of trying to cheer them up, provide empathy, support, and understanding. Seek professional intervention when necessary.
Supporting someone with depression requires understanding and patience. Remember that each person’s experience with mental health is unique, so adapt your support to their specific needs. On this World Mental Health Day, let’s work together to eliminate the myths and misconceptions surrounding depression and promote empathy and compassion for those who live with it.