July 18, 2017
Few medical diagnoses are as misunderstood as depression. While the general stigma around mental illness is a reason for this, there are also many myths that contribute to the confusion – none more so than the idea that a depressed person can just “get over it.”
People tend to believe that they have much more control of their emotions than they really do. Here’s the reality: we can try to influence the circumstances in our lives, but we can’t necessarily control how our bodies are going to react to certain situations. This is especially true for a depressed person.
Many misperceptions stem from the name itself. Too many people believe that “depression” simply means a more severe version of being sad or upset. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Depression is a real illness that requires proper attention and treatment.
While persistent unhappiness can influence a case of depression, the illness goes much deeper than circumstance. Depression is a result of brain chemistry and the interaction of chemicals inside our body.
Much of what makes depression a pervasive issue for so many people is the misguided impression that they aren’t strong-willed enough. A depressed person isn’t weak-willed or acting out for attention. They don’t struggle with certain aspects of their life because they’re lazy or unmotivated. And they certainly aren’t treating people differently because they’ve suddenly become a bad person.
Many people who suffer from depression are afraid of what others might think, or believe they should be able to handle what they’re going through alone — and it stops them from getting the diagnosis and treatment they need. It’s vitally important to break down these misconceptions.
In no segment of the population are these misperceptions truer than in older people. This is likely due to a lack of education about depression as an illness and an increased susceptibility to it due to factors like social isolation. Only 38 percent of adults aged 65 and older believe that depression is a “health” problem. The false expectation is that depression is just something that happens as you get older and you should be able to deal with it all on your own.
Depression is real and it’s not something that people can simply “get over.” The good news is that with the right attention and help, this illness is treatable.
The first step in combatting depression is recognizing the symptoms, even the subtler ones like reduced appetite, social withdrawal, and lack of sleep. If you see these symptoms in someone you love, be supportive and encourage them to get checked out. If you recognize those feelings in yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help.