Myth #3: “You must have a reason to be depressed.”
Depression is as deceptive and as persuasive as a corrupt politician, convincing you of all sorts of untruths, such as: “You have no right to be depressed. Look at all you have. You should be grateful.” Being clinically depressed requires no justification. Even though the world measures happiness through externals and then determines that you should be happy if you have enough, that doesn’t make it so.
Such remarks from loved ones, though they may be well-intentioned, only reinforce and worsen guilt, which is a common symptom of depression. Being clinically depressed requires no more justification than does getting the flu.
“Our culture often reinforces these beliefs,” says Suzanne Smolkin, VP of Clinical Operations, Behavioral Health UM at HMC HealthWorks. “In books and movies, the hero generally just sets her mind to doing something and accomplishes it through sheer willpower and grit. While that may work with many things,” she says, “dealing with depression is different. Depression saps the energy that helps us deal with things.” Another important point Smolkin makes is that unlike many other medical conditions, depression distorts one’s perception of self and the world, and this is where self-blame comes in: “When you are suffering from depression, you often aren’t able to see the situation realistically or respond to it adequately without help.”
Myth #4: “If you can function, you must not be depressed.”
“When you have the flu, you stay home. With depression, it’s really quite hidden,” says Madisyn Taylor, founder of DailyOM and author of Unmedicated: The Four Pillars of Natural Wellness.
“Many people with depression are still going to work and living their lives. We’re not wearing a cast, we don’t [always] have physical symptoms. It can be difficult because people don’t know.” Hence depression being referenced as an “invisible illness.”
Looking to know more myths that are associated with mental illness? Read Debunking 11 Common Myths Around Mental Health
Myth # 5: “If you were only strong enough, you wouldn’t be depressed.”
Being clinically depressed has nothing to do with being strong or weak. In fact, it takes a great deal of courage to ask for help when you are suffering. From the depths of psychic pain, one often emerges with strength and a renewed appreciation for life.
Many who have fought and clawed their way out of the abyss of depression (or another mental health condition) can truly appreciate the feeling of being liberated from its grip. Further, one who has been forced to fight against the tides of societal stigma, and thus self-shame, often has the character and depth of soul of a survivor.
“Being a survivor takes an enormous amount of strength,” notes Taylor, who says depression helped her survive a childhood trauma. “Depression was my friend for many years. It protected me, threw a blanket over me; it served a purpose for me.” Through her healing process, she says, she found a well of strength that she never knew existed: “Most have it. They just need to find that spark.” For her, that spark was meditation: “It allowed me to quiet my mind, to hear my inner voice crying out for help.” Taylor attributes her success today to her experience, “I wouldn’t be doing what I do today if I hadn’t lived through and survived depression and anxiety.”
Rather than view a diagnosis of depression as a life sentence, what would it be like to embrace it as a challenge — to use it to grow and learn, to help others? What if the goal was the slow deterioration of any remnants of shame that remain in the minds of those who struggle with mental health conditions, as well as in the minds of those around them?
By talking about and normalizing mental health issues, perhaps more and more individuals will be inspired to share their stories. “We need the conversation to be out in the open, like so many other issues,” says Taylor. “It’s time for it to come into the light. When it’s in the shadow, it can’t heal.”