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5 Things You Should Know About Depression

Understanding misconceptions about depression is key for coping and support.

Key points

  • Depression looks different in different people. Some people suffer silently.
  • Depression can cause physical pain and illness.
  • People who have never experienced depression can't fully understand what it's like.
 Fernando @cferdophotography / Unsplash
Source: Fernando @cferdophotography / Unsplash

Because the prevalence of depression and mood disorders in the United States has risen dramatically since 2020, understanding depression is more important than ever. It is necessary for those who are suffering from depression, and those who love them, to be educated about the symptoms, the best practices for treatment, and how loved ones and their community can support them. Below are five important facts to know about depression.

  1. Not everyone who is depressed cries or has tearful outbursts. When people hear the word “depression,” the first image that comes to mind is somebody crying and continuously feeling sad. This can be true, but it is not always the case. Research shows that sadness and tearfulness are not necessarily obvious symptoms, especially for men. Many people suffer silently, not expressing their emotions. Others become angry as an outlet for their depression. The way that depression manifests takes many forms.
  2. Trying to be positive does not cure depression. If you suffer from depression, or you know someone who does, you may have heard people saying how critical it is to keep a positive attitude, look on the bright side of life, or be grateful for what you have. While these statements are technically true for all of us, they can be incredibly frustrating for somebody who is suffering. Having depression is not like flipping a switch. You can’t get up one day and decide that you don’t have it anymore. Simply deciding to be positive is not the answer, and it will not make depression go away.
  3. Depression can lead to physical pain and illness. Depression not only affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but it also affects our bodies. People with depression can and often do experience chronic physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, bodily aches and pains, and fatigue. In some cases, chronic depression is related to worse outcomes in physical conditions such as heart disease, gastrointestinal conditions, and a compromised immune system. It does not cause these conditions but can affect how well the body tolerates them and responds to medical treatment.
  4. Unless you’ve experienced depression yourself, you won’t fully understand its impact. This idea can be very frustrating for those who love and support someone who is depressed. But clinical depression is not the same experience as feeling down, having a bad week or having a negative attitude about life. It’s a mental health condition that can be serious and chronic and affect the person mentally and physically. Mental health treatment is essential for treating depression, rather than merely exercising, eating healthier, or thinking positive thoughts. Sometimes, people who have struggled with depression for decades still believe they should be over it completely and must be doing something wrong. The best thing you can do for yourself or for someone that you love is to understand that depression is a complex condition that requires intervention by a qualified professional.
  5. Depression can be successfully treated but won’t be “cured.” The most evidence-based treatment for depression is cognitive therapy. Many people also benefit from medication. Therapy and medication will allow people with depression to function in their daily lives, to return to the activities they used to enjoy, and overall to feel like they’re capable of living the life they hoped to live. But treatment will not make someone permanently symptom free, and it cannot erase the mental and physical effects of being depressed.

Now that you know these five things, if you think you are depressed, you should talk to a mental health professional. If you’re in treatment and expecting to be completely well, talk to your existing provider about how your treatment is going, what you both can do to make it most effective, and understand the potential limits. Consider communicating honestly with those around you about how depression affects you, so people are aware of how intrusive and impactful depression can be.

If you’re loving and supporting people with depression, talk to your loved ones and let them know that you want to understand. Offer compassion without assumptions. Find evidence-based resources, including scholarly articles, to deepen your understanding.

Anyone impacted by depression should be open to learning more about it rather than assuming they know everything.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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