Depression is one of those things that everyone has heard about, but few understand. I often joke that depression is like panda bears in that everyone is familiar with them, but most people have never seen one in real life and even fewer have touched one. Yet, we all feel as if they are commonplace. Because of misconception, stereotype, and just plain old lack of education, our society knows precious little about depression. Sadly, this doesn’t stop people from believing that they know all about it.
I hate being depressed. Not exactly an earth-shattering admission. I don’t really think there are many people who enjoy being sad, let alone feeling the soul-sucking emptiness that is depression.
I do, believe it or not, appreciate the attempts of my loved ones who try so hard to “pick me up” when I’m down. However, I think their attempts might be more successful if they stopped accepting a few common myths about depression.
1 – I’m Depressed, Not a Toddler
Just because I’m depressed doesn’t mean I’m suddenly not an adult. In layman’s terms, I want to make it clear: Depression does not equal regression to childhood.
I say this because, almost without exception, people will talk to me like I’m a 4-year-old once they discover I’m suffering from depression. I wish this illness was so insignificant that a couple of well placed “atta boys” and maybe a little condescending baby talk could snap me right out of it. But, consider this:
If it’s so easy to cure that the random musings that soothe an infant worked to “fix it,” why are doctors, scientists, and researchers working so hard all over the world to find treatments? Just hire someone’s granny to wander around tickling depressed people and, violá, problem solved.
2 – I’m Depressed, Not Stupid
Just because I’m depressed doesn’t mean I’m no longer intelligent. I will acknowledge that depression does cause some cognitive impairment in the form of slower thinking, being unaware of my surroundings, and so forth.
However, it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand what you are saying. Condescending tones, language, and treatment will upset me just as much when depressed – if not more so – as it would when I’m perfectly well.
It’s not rude to talk to me like an adult, because I am an adult. I’m just sick. Treating me like I’m stupid is not only unhelpful, but it makes me feel more isolated and more stuck. I’m also less likely to believe you when you remind me that I’m wanted, needed, and loved.
3 – Depression is Not Sadness
The biggest, most persistent, and most common myth surrounding depression is that it is the same as common sadness. It’s understandable how people can make this mistake. We use “depressed” in common parlance to indicate sadness. We relabeled “manic depression” to “bipolar disorder” and it would be helpful if we either started saying “clinical depression” or changed the diagnosis name to “unipolar disorder.” This, in my opinion, would clear up some of the confusion.
I’m guilty of spreading this misconception myself. When I describe bipolar disorder I say that it “exists on a spectrum from very sad to very happy.” This is my shorthand way of explaining depression and mania to the general public. (FYI: mania is not very happy, either.)
At best, I’m using a poor analogy and, at worst, I’m straight up wrong. Sadness and depression have about as much in common as a gentle rain and a hurricane. Just because both are weather events and both contain water doesn’t make them the same. That also holds true for sadness and depression.
Sadness is a component of depression and both are moods, but the similarities pretty much end there. This is important to know because if you suggest a person “just grab an umbrella” and head out in a hurricane, you’ve done that individual a great disservice. People suffering from depression can’t “just cheer up” and it’s frustrating to be told we can.
Educate Yourself About Depression
If you want to help someone who is suffering from depression, then you must first educate yourself. This can be as simple as exploring PsychCentral.com and learning more or asking the person what you can do to be helpful.
You can also make an appointment with a psychologist or therapist and discuss ways to be an ally in your friend’s fight against depression. The best advice is often the simplest:
Don’t assume you know what to do. A little knowledge and effort goes a long way.
This article previously appeared on Psych Central as 3 Commons Myths About Depression.