I’ve heard or thought several of these myself. The ones I haven’t are still alarmingly common. I’ve split these into two categories – myths depressives are told and myths depressives tell themselves.
First Five – Things Other People Tell You
Myth – People with depression are just lazy / idle / weak-willed / spineless. They should get on with it and stop whinging.
Reality – This is perhaps the most common myth spouted by others, often those with no experience of depression themselves or the wilfully ignorant. Depression is an illness, a legitimate condition in exactly the same way any physical illness is. We don’t claim those with cancer or a broken leg should just ‘get on with it’ so why do the same for depression or anxiety? It makes no more sense to do so and is ignorant and unhelpful at best or just plain cruel at worst. If you have never experienced depression or mental illness, thank your lucky stars – and don’t be afraid to help those who have, even if it’s simply by listening to them. If you have nothing constructive to offer, don’t do anything at all.
Myth – People with depression are just attention-seeking.
Reality – The overwhelming majority of people with depression are legitimately ill. This is a bit like saying everyone you see hobbling down the street on crutches with their leg in a plaster-cast is just some sort of role-playing actor. Are there people who have done this? Er…probably, but we’re talking a fraction of a percent at best. The nature of depression tends to make people focus inwardly in any case, so attention is often the last thing people with depression want. What they do want is help – but they are often unable to ask for it.
Myth – Saying you’re depressed is just a fashionable fad. They only say they’re depressed because everyone else is saying it.
Reality – It doesn’t matter if something is in the public eye – the thing itself is still real. Back in the 1990s the news was filled with stories about kids overdosing on ecstasy. These days you hardly hear about it – but of course it still goes on. Depression is no different. Fads may come and go, but people who need help still need that help regardless of what wider society is doing.
Myth – People with depression don’t have a right to feel as they do. There are people in the world much worse off than they are.
Reality – Yes there are people who are worse off than you. There are also people considerably better off. This is no more sensible than saying since there are very happy people in the world nobody else is allowed to be happy.
Myth – You can’t feel depressed if you are rich / beautiful / handsome / successful / accomplished / living in a penthouse etc
Reality – Okay, here’s a list of names. Stephen Fry, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, Robin Williams, Dorothy Parker, Sarah Kane. All of these people have / had many of these qualities but still experience(d) depression. The illness does not care how rich, talented or successful you are. It is true that living in abject poverty will increase anyone’s suffering, but depression itself can literally hit anyone.
Myth – You may be depressed but you can choose to be happy. You’re just not prepared to make that choice.
Reality – Why would anyone consciously choose to be miserable, ill and unhappy? Even if someone does all the ‘right’ things like exercise regularly, eat a good diet, take medication and so on, depression can still hit them. Often those with depression would like nothing more than to feel okay and to be able to lead a normal life. They simply don’t know how.
Second Five – Things You Tell Yourself
Myth – You are stupid / ugly / worthless / disgusting / horrible / weak / pathetic / a complete loser.
Reality – This is depression at its most direct and its most distressing. The nature of the condition is that it will attack you when you are at your most low and vulnerable. It’s rather like having a gang of schoolyard bullies all crammed into your head at once. It can be overwhelming to be confronted by so much aggression and negativity. We should bear in mind that to the poor person suffering this, the cruel voices seem very real – even though the picture they are painting is entirely false.
Myth – Nobody likes you. Even your so-called ‘friends’ are just people you have conned into liking you. Any day now they will see through it and abandon you.
Reality – The only way you could ‘know’ this would be if you could somehow read other people’s minds – which would be a remarkable gift in itself. As for friends, they can vary in quality. I have had some dreadful ‘friends’ in my life especially in my latter school years of whom I am now well-rid. Equally I have some wonderful friends who have stuck by me no matter what – and I hope they feel the same. Anyone who is a true friend will accept you for the ‘whole’ you, including the flaws which we all have. As for ‘conning’ them, once again, this presupposes a level of control over others which would be quite remarkable not to mention assuming whatever friends you have would be unable to see past it.
Myth – You don’t deserve to be happy. Happiness is for other people. You’re just one of those who missed out on the golden ticket when you were born, so you have to stay miserable forever.
Reality – ‘Happiness’ is a feeling. It has nothing to do with ‘deserving.’ If the circumstances are right you will ‘feel’ happy just as you would sadness if the conditions were right. Why would being happy be for other people only? What have they done to get it that you haven’t? Is there some sort of secret society you join to be happy? Is it like the Freemasons or something? No. Happiness is a feeling. It is not a membership card of some exclusive club.
Myth – Everyone else is far happier / has a much better life than you do.
Reality – Once again, this depends upon clairvoyance which none of us possess. You do not know what is going on in the lives of others. Many seemingly-happy and successful people battle their own demons behind closed doors.
Myth – Depression is inescapable. You will never feel better.
Reality – Recovery is possible. We may not know all we need to know about how depression works and society may not be fully accepting of the notion that some of us get depressed. But things are changing, slowly but surely moving in the right direction. There is more support available than ever before with many people out there sharing their experiences and insights. Recovery is possible.
“I can make it through. You can make it, too.”
(Bob Dylan, ‘Blood on the Tracks’)