A psychologist explains why depression is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses

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 could handle 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 who lead 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?

If you’ve ever been depressed, you know how life-altering it can be. Depression can keep you from getting up in the morning, making it hard to concentrate, and causing 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 myths about depression that can make treating it difficult.

Myth #1. Depression is a matter of brain chemistry

When people think of depression, they think of it as a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be corrected with medication. But this line of thinking closes the door to several effective models for treating depression.

While it’s true that depression is linked to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, there’s more to it.

Depression often follows disturbances in a person’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 than to positive or neutral events. This is called negativity bias.

Negativity sells, so the media embraces it. Activated by the impact of social media and the internet, this overexposure to negativity is why many people develop negative thought patterns. It could be a precursor to depression.

Another major situational factor that can precede depression is the poor quality of close relationships. For instance:

  • Is this person in an abusive romantic relationship?
  • Does this person have a difficult relationship with their parents?
  • What is their work environment?

When it comes to treating illness, it’s important to view a depressed person as more than just the sum of their imbalanced neurotransmitters. Although drug therapy is helpful, its combination with psychotherapy usually gives the best results.

Myth #2. Depressed people want to isolate themselves

Yes, depressed people tend to isolate themselves. Often they:

  • Don’t show up for work
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Ignore friends and family

But what we need to understand is that they have a mental health issue that prevents them from reconnecting with society as a healthy person would.

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

A study published in Psychological bulletin suggests that people prone to depression are, in fact, highly susceptible to negative social interactions. Many depressive symptoms, such as self-isolation, could be understood as a way to minimize social risk. Another study published in Emotion revealed that people who are depressed often experience a decrease in their reactions to positive and negative social cues.

Highly sensitive people may unconsciously react to difficult social environments by withdrawing into the “protective shell” of depression.

If you want to help someone who is depressed and isolating, don’t offer them toxic positivity. Avoid saying frivolous things like:

  • you do yourself
  • It could be worse
  • think of happy things

Instead, remind them, in a subtle way, that you care about them. Sometimes depressed people just want to be heard and understood, not “fixed.” So give them your full attention when they decide to contact you.

You can also offer your help in a specific way. For example, you might be at his favorite restaurant and call to see if he wants to bring food. Small acts of love matter to people, and depressed people are no exception.


Familiarize yourself with the myths surrounding depression. It is a complex mental illness with many different causes and symptoms. If you think you might be depressed, it’s important to talk to a therapist or mental health professional who can help you get the treatment you need. Remember that there is no shame in asking for help.

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