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Myths about Depression

by Dr. Jyoti Kapoor

Article by: Dr. Jyoti Kapoor, Senior Psychiatrist and Founder & Director of ‘Manasthali

  1. Depression is not an illness, it is a state of mind. – Depressive Disorders are caused by neurochemical disturbance in brain which responds to antidepressant treatment. Like other bodily ailments, there is a physiological process involved in these disorders which disturbs the normal state of wellbeing. Just because there is no objective laboratory measure to identify these imbalances at present, doesn’t mean that depression is not an illness and that it should not be treated. There is enough empirical evidence to suggest mechanisms that cause depression and how effective treatment strategies are. Trust your doctor who is trained to handle these conditions rather than lay persons who air the myths regarding psychiatric disorders due to ignorance and distorted social belief systems.
  2. Depression doesn’t happen if there is no stress or tension in environment.- Endogenous Depression can occur in the absence of a significant environmental stressor. There are hereditary and genetic factors involved in the causation of these disorders and psychosocial issues are often the triggers for onset of Depression and not the cause of it.
  3. Depression can be controlled by will power.- Endogenous depression occurs due to a biological vulnerability to develop neurochemical imbalances which leads to persistent state of sadness. During this phase, patient isn’t able to use his will power alone to get out of the state of depression. Negative thinking, lack of interest and inability to feel good are part and parcel of Depressive disorders. Understanding and support help the individual to open up about their inability to handle negative emotions and empathic treatment helps to guide them out of this sense of helplessness. Medicines help correct the neuro chemical imbalance faster along with which psychological strategies help combat the issue in professional setting.
  4. There is no cure for Depression.- Depressive disorders are treated with medication and psychotherapy and response to treatment modalities is generally good. When treated early, response rate is even better and patient is able to withdraw from medicines with regular and rational treatment approach. With adequate treatment, depressed individuals are able to lead normal life and carry on routine activities like any no – depressed individual.
  5. Children have no business getting depressed as they have no stress.- No age group is immune to depression. Children as young as 5 years of age have shown signs of depression and it need not always be a reaction to a major environmental stressor. Children often show more behavioural ( crying / irritability/ tantrums etc.)or physical symptoms ( nausea, lack of appetite, stomach ache, headache etc.) than telling that they are feeling sad or have negative thoughts. If parents try to deny or ignore the symptoms due to there own fear of acknowledging that the child may have a psychological issue, timely intervention is impeded with long term negative consequences.
  6. Depression is normal for elderly people, lonely people or people with no one to talk to.- Although loneliness increases the vulnerability to depression, it’s not a cause for it. Depression isn’t a normal state of mind for elderly people or people who are single or widowed. We all develop coping abilities to handle life situations and people vulnerable to develop depression often use ineffective coping strategies to handle situations like being old or alone. With corrective coping skills, reactive depression can be treated.
  7. Depression is caused by evil spells (jaadu-tona).- Like hypertension and diabetes, Depressive disorders are cause by chemical disturbance in a part of body ( in this case brain is the part of body affected). These disorders are not caused by black magic and don’t restrict treatments by spiritual healers ( ojha- tantrik/ jhaad- phoonk).
  8. Antidepressants are only meant to sedate and are addictive.- All antidepressants are not sedative. The goal of treatment is to help the individual lead a happy, healthy life and not to put him to sleep. Initial side effects of some antidepressants produce drowsiness and the effects vary from person to person. Treatment is thus individualised based on effects and side effects. Antidepressants are generally non addictive if taken under supervision. Some drug companies have combination pills with antidepressants and sedatives which if continued without guidance can cause sleep related issues upon sudden withdrawal. A rational approach to treatment of Depression is to avoid combination formulas, to adequately educate patient about effect and side effects of medicines, to maintain regular follow up with psychiatrist even during asymptomatic maintenance phase and to introduce life style measures and psychotherapy at the right time of treatment.
  9. All psychiatric problems are called Depression.- All psychiatric and psychological issues are not Depression. Depressive disorders are specific, symptom based category of mood disorders which requires specialist intervention. Correct diagnosis and timely intervention alleviates suffering and reduces dysfunction associated with depression. Like any chronic illness, precautions are needed to avoid or handle relapses.

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