It is 2021. Everyone has been touched by anxiety or depression in some way. You have either had to deal with it yourself or you know someone who is. In the past few years, people have become more open about their mental health struggles. From celebrities to everyday people, lots of people are talking about their experiences. The best part is that although there is still a significant bit of stigma, many people are learning to show empathy and honest conversations are being had about mental health and mental health struggles. If you ask me, this is a huge deal!
Now, while I am glad that we are having more open conversations about mental health, there are still some misconceptions that need to be addressed.
Here are 10 common myths about anxiety and depression – I will be debunking them.
Myth 1: Depression is caused by a sad event.
Fact: This is not always true. Like any other illness, depression may be triggered by environmental events. However, depression also has a biological basis with some people being at greater risk than others. It is possible for a person to deal with persistent low mood, without experiencing any traumatic events. Depression is an illness and a persistent low mood, like a fever, is merely a symptom of that illness.
Sad events such as losing a loved one, a difficult breakup, failure, losing one’s job, etc. can put someone at risk of experiencing depression, especially if they don’t get help in time. But, depression isn’t always caused by sad events.
Myth 2: Anxiety isn’t a real disease.
Fact: Okay, so this isn’t true. Anxiety disorder is a diagnosable psychiatric condition. Just as one can get diagnosed with having the flu, one can also get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
General symptoms of an anxiety disorder( because all diagnosable conditions have them) include;
- Difficulty sleeping as a result of excessive worrying.
- Racing heart
- Irrational fear
- Tightness in the chest
- Difficulty concentrating
- Myth 3: Depression is a women’s thing.
Fact: One reason this myth exists is that women are more likely to open up and talk about their challenges. Men have been conditioned to be uncomfortable with such openness, so a lot of them don’t seek help even when they really need it.
Depression affects both men and women, and it can especially have severe consequences in men because men are more likely than women to die from suicide.
Myth 4: Medication doesn’t work for anxiety.
Fact: Anxiety also has a biological basis. Medications have helped a lot of people to get their anxiety levels down. Medications alone may not be sufficient in dealing with anxiety, but they can do about half of the job. People generally understand the need for medications to deal with physical illnesses like diabetes because they consider them to be real illnesses. Resistance to the use of medications for anxiety is often tied to Myth 2 – they do not think of anxiety as a valid illness. But, anxiety is a real and valid medical condition. Don’t believe the stigma.
Myth 5: Talking about one’s depression and anxiety only makes it worse.
Fact: What really makes depression worse is having to live with all the negative thoughts swimming around in your head. It could make it worse and even lead to suicidal ideation.
It is advisable to talk to someone that you trust to listen without judgement when you are dealing with anxiety or depression. In most cases, that ‘someone’ you should be talking to is a trained therapist who has the tools to help you deal with the situation.
Myth 6: People dealing with anxiety only have to avoid stress to deal with their anxiety.
Fact: I hate to admit it, but stress is inevitable. Somedays, it will feel as if the universe itself is conspiring against you with all the stressful situations you might find yourself in.
One can’t always avoid stress. A healthy alternative is to find ways to cope with life’s daily stressors such that it doesn’t trigger anxious emotions.
Myth 7: Adopting a positive outlook on life is the cure for depression.
Fact: People are fond of saying things such as, “Snap out of it!”, “You just have to look on the bright side.”, “Be grateful for what you have. You’ll be happier that way.” to people that are depressed.
Not only do these statements offer no comfort, but they also imply that depression is something that can be “snapped out of”, like shrugging off a blanket.
Understand that depression isn’t just intense sadness, and it is not a pity party, it goes deeper than that, and using such phrases is somewhat dismissive. If it were that easy to “snap out of it”, no one would be depressed. Also, adopting a positive outlook does not change the reality of the circumstances, it does not fix structural issues that are at the root cause of a person’s depression. Instead of being dismissive, ask how you can help.
Myth 8: People that suffer from anxiety are always clumsy and shaky all the time.
Fact: A person can suffer from anxiety disorder and project an outward appearance of confidence most of the time.
Anxiety doesn’t always mean being disorganized, sweaty, or stuttering while talking. An outwardly confident person can experience moments of intense panic. Some people have learned to hide their anxiety well. This is one reason we should always be conscious of our words and behaviour towards others. The most confident person you know might be having panic attacks in the toilet at work, how would you know?
Myth 9: Social anxiety and being shy are the same.
Fact: While they might be slightly similar, social anxiety and shyness are not the same. Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder while shyness is a personality quality.
While a shy person would feel uncomfortable in a social setting, a person dealing with social anxiety would feel an intense level of distress when they find themselves in social gatherings.
A shy person might also be socially anxious, but a socially anxious person isn’t just shy. It is important to distinguish correctly between the two.
Myth 10: Everyone that is depressed is suicidal.
Fact: The truth is that not everyone that is depressed is suicidal, and not everyone who attempts suicide is depressed.
It is easy for outsiders to lump both groups together, but that is not a good way to show empathy for the people struggling with these things.
If you have made it to the end of this article, I hope you have learned a thing or two about anxiety and depression. I really hope so. If you have a friend or family that is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, the first way to be there for them is by learning all you can about anxiety and depression. Knowledge is power, and that is the first tool you need to be there to show up for your people. The second is empathy.
Remember, be kind!