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A Psychologist Explains Why Depression Is One Of The Most Misunderstood Mental Illnesses

Many people come to therapy seeking help for their depression. They ask questions like:

  • “I wish I was able to deal with life like a normal person. Why is my brain so incompetent?”
  • “I feel so guilty for being depressed when I see that there are so many living a much harder life than me. Why am I so obsessed with myself?”
  • “I understand that my lack of initiative at work is due to my depression. Why do I still feel like I’m making excuses for myself?”

If you’ve ever been depressed, you know how serious it can be. Depression can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning, make it 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 a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be corrected by medication. But this way of thinking closes the door to several effective models for treating depression.

While it is true that depression is linked to an imbalance of neurotransmittersthere’s more than that.

Depression often follows problems in one’s social environment. For example, people who experience stressful life changes are at risk of developing depression.

As humans, we are wired to be more sensitive to negative events rather than positive or neutral events. This is called negativity bias.

Negativity sells, so the media embraces it. Made possible by the impact of social media and the internet, this overexposure to negativity explains why many people develop negative thought patterns. This can be a precursor to depression.

Another important 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 working environment like?

When it comes to treating the condition, it’s important to look at a depressed person as more than just the sum of their neurotransmitter imbalances. While drug therapy is helpful, combine it with psychotherapy usually leads to the best results.

Myth #2. Depressed people want to isolate themselves

Yes, depressed people tend to isolate themselves. They often:

  • Don’t come to work
  • Neglect their personal hygiene
  • Ignore their friends and family

But what we need to understand is that they have a mental illness that makes it difficult for them to reconnect with society as a sane person would.

It’s not like they decided to leave society. On the contrary, their depression can make it seem (to others and to themselves) that they have.

A study published in Psychological bulletin suggests that individuals prone to depression are in fact highly sensitive to negative social interactions. Many depressive symptoms, such as self-isolation, can be understood as a way to minimize social risks. Another study published in Emotion revealed that depressed people often experience a blunted response 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 self-isolating, don’t offer it toxic positivity. Avoid useless things like:

  • You do you
  • It could have been worse
  • Think happy thoughts

Instead, remind them in subtle ways that you care. Sometimes depressed people just want to be heard and understood, not “fixed.” So give them your undivided attention when they decide to get in touch.

You can also offer to help in specific ways. For example, you can “happen” to be at their favorite restaurant and call to ask if they would like some food brought over. Small gestures of love are important to people, and depressed people are no exception.

Conclusion

Familiarize yourself with the myths surrounding depression. It is a complex mental illness with many different causes and symptoms. If you think you may 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.

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