No illness, not even AIDS, is subject to more myths and misconceptions than mental illnesses. Here are some common myths about depression and anxiety.
Myth: Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Fact: Certain neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, are thought to play a role in depression. However, depression is more than a chemical imbalance. It has psychological factors as well. Depression may have multiple causes, and biological factors may be more important in some people than in others.
Myth: Depression can be cured by taking an antidepressant.
Fact: Some depressed people respond very well to drug therapy. Some people may respond better to some medications than to others. In terms of numbers, psychotherapy (particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy) is just as effective as medication, and the most effective treatment is a combination of both. However, in some cases, depression is resistant to both types of treatment.
Myth: People who seek psychotherapy are weak, selfish, or stupid.
Fact: Depression and anxiety are real, persistent, chronic illnesses with physical as well as emotional and cognitive symptoms. They are recognized as diseases by professionals worldwide, and they have affected people from the beginning of time. They are found in all cultures, all age groups, and all levels of intelligence. People seeking psychotherapy for depression and/or anxiety are suffering from real illness.
Myth: People with severe depression and/or anxiety aren't really disabled.
Fact: Symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders include difficulty concentrating, insomnia, and extreme fatigue. Depressed people may suffer from a severe lack of motivation that is like being "frozen" or "paralyzed." People with anxiety disorders may experience headaches and/or a racing heart. People with panic disorder and social phobias may not even be able to leave their homes, and people with obsessive-compulsive disorder may lose hours every day to their compulsions. All of these symptoms are disabling, and in fact the Social Security Administration recognizes depression and anxiety disorders as valid causes of disability.
Myth: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a normal reaction to extreme situations such as life-threatening experiences or combat.
Fact: PTSD is a common reaction to these experiences, but not a normal reaction.
Myth: Suicidal talk and suicide attempts are just attention-seeking behavior.
Fact: It is never, ever normal for a person to talk about committing suicide, certainly not just to get attention. All talk about suicide should be taken seriously. Suicidal talk and suicide attmepts are a sign that a person's life is in grave danger. Professional help should always be sought when a person's talk or actions turn to suicide, even if they don't seem serious. Everything about suicide is serious.