The Myths & Misconceptions of Men’s DepressionMay 02, 2022
Depression is a term that is often tossed around casually, used incorrectly and is commonly misunderstood. Although we’ve made great strides in recent years to normalize the diagnosis and treatment of depression, the negative stigma it still carries prevents many men from getting the treatment they need to feel better. By dispelling the myths and misconceptions surrounding depression I hope to help clarify what it is, what it is not and demonstrate how important it is to seek treatment if think you might be depressed.
The Difference Between Sadness & Depression:
Feeling sad or irritable or having trouble sleeping from time to time is a normal part of the human experience. Even if you do your best to take good care of yourself and respond well to life events, there will still be days when you just don't feel your best. These feelings may be unpleasant, but they tend to be short-lived and pass after a couple of days.
Depression, on the other hand, is a serious mood disorder that may cause severe symptoms. Resulting from changes in brain structure or function due to environmental and biological factors, it affects your ability to feel, think, and handle daily activities. Also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, you must have symptoms for a minimum of two weeks to be diagnosed with depression.
For a condition that’s still frequently misunderstood, depression is quite common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) about six million American men suffer from depression every year. However, this number is thought to significantly underrepresent the full picture of how many men actually suffer from depression.
One reason for this is that depression in men is underdiagnosed and often misdiagnosed. It is estimated that roughly 30.6% of men have undiagnosed depression. Until recently, depression is a condition thought to be more prevalent in women, which is not the case.
Another reason men go undiagnosed is they tend to suffer in silence and have a harder time coming to terms with the reality of being depressed or recognizing symptoms of depression.
The specific causes of depression are so diverse and complex to understand, it might be difficult for a man to know that what he’s experiencing is depression.
For a disorder that is so often suffered in secret, it’s no surprise that all manner of myths and misconceptions about depression arise.
Sadly, these false beliefs result in terrible consequences. For instance, if a depressed guy has misconceptions about the treatment options that are available, and decides therapy is just too big of a commitment, then he may miss out on legitimately helpful treatment. Understanding the reality of depression can help you approach the condition from a better perspective.
Here are some of the common myths and misconceptions associated with depression.
Myth: Depression is Not a Real Medical Problem.
Depression is a real and serious condition. It is no different than diabetes or heart disease in its ability to impact someone’s life. It can have both emotional and physical symptoms and make life very difficult for those who have it. The medical community has acknowledged the seriousness of depression and recognizes it as a disease. While no one is completely certain what causes depression, we know that genetic and biological factors play a significant role in the development of this disease.
Myth: You Should be Able to ‘Snap Out Of’ Depression by Thinking Positively.
Depression is a health condition as serious and consequential to your overall quality of life as diabetes or heart disease. Similarly, depression is not a choice, nor is it something you can just ‘snap out of’ with positive thinking. No matter how hard your friends and loved ones want to cheer you up, addressing depression only happens on a deeper level. While it’s wonderful to be surrounded by love and support, it’s unlikely depression will be cured through the power of positive thinking alone.
Myth: Depression Is All in Your Head.
False! Some people deny the fact that depression is real, however, it is a very real psychological, social, and biological disorder. Symptoms of depression don’t just include mood, as it can also include physical aches and pains, sleeping too much or too little, and extreme lethargy. Additionally, it can cause you to experience an array of cognitive distortions that lead to feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and self-doubt.
Myth: Depression Is Caused by A Chemical Imbalance in The Brain
The chemical imbalance theory as a cause for anxiety and depressive disorders never was true. In fact, in the past 50 years, no experiment has ever shown that anyone has an ‘imbalance’ of any neurotransmitters or any other brain chemicals. The entire theory was hypothetical.
Furthermore, independent research has shown medication used to 'correct' the imbalance was largely ineffective with many faring no better than had they used a placebo. One reason the chemical imbalance myth has persisted may be in the hope that it will reduce stigma. If one has a chemical imbalance they can't control, they can't be blamed for what is sometimes viewed as mental weakness. Unfortunately, a strictly biological explanation for depression doesn’t seem to take away the stigma.
Myth: Depression Is Only Brought on By A Traumatic Event.
A life event, like the loss of a loved one, triggers feelings of sadness, loneliness and emptiness in everyone. However, those who deal with depression are more likely to experience those feelings for long periods of time and more frequently. A traumatic event does not cause depression; it only heightens an already existing issue in someone who deals with depression.
Myth: Medication Is the Only Way to Manage Depression.
Antidepressant medications do help many overcome the weight of depressive symptoms, however, that’s just one option for treatment. For many men, antidepressants alone aren’t enough. Combining medications with talk therapy is a particularly effective and common treatment strategy. Research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is especially effective in helping people with depression.
Myth: Tolerating Depression is a Normal Part of Life.
Depression is also not a normal part of getting older. Even though your life goes through many changes, being depressed is not something you have to live with. If you struggle with depression, know that you don’t have to fight it alone. Help is available and managing depression is absolutely possible.
Myth: If You Have a Family Member with Depression, You Will Have it, Too.
While there is a genetic component in depression, research shows the correlation is slight. Of people who have a relative who deals with depression, only 10 to 15 percent will also develop depression. Of course, if you have family members with depression, you may have a better understanding of the signs and might be more aware of changes in your own mental state, behavior and emotions.
Myth: Only Women Get Depressed
It’s not that more women are depressed than men, it’s just that men don’t talk about it as often as women. In the U.S., four times as many men die by suicide than women. Some men believe that talking about their emotions is silly or pathetic. They may avoid treatments for depression in fear they will no longer appear masculine or strong. Some signs of depression in men are different than in women. Along with the signs mentioned so far, here are other symptoms of depression:
Signs of Depression in Men
- Feeling angry
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, like sex
- Feeling fatigued
- Not able to remember details
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Aches, pains, headaches, cramps
- Inability to meet daily responsibilities
Myth: Depression Is the Same as Being Sad
We touched on this earlier, but it’s worth reiterating. Feeling down and being depressed are two different things. Depression can be brought on by feelings of sadness, but feeling down doesn’t last as long as an episode of depression. Sadness is a mood, which is a temporary, emotional state of mind. Depression is a mood disorder. It comes with distressing symptoms that affect areas of your life and perceptions that are beyond the reach of sadness.
Depression can last from a few weeks to an entire year or beyond. Unlike sadness, depression usually doesn’t go away on its own. People with depression have many other emotions other than feeling sad. They can feel anxious, tense, empty and experience other negative emotions. While sadness is an obstacle that one can typically tackle on their own, depression is a beast that usually requires professional assistance to defeat.
Myth: Depression Isn’t A Big Deal
Clinical depression is a serious condition that causes those who suffer from it to withdraw from loved ones, take dangerous risks or even start conflicts with others. It requires treatment to manage and overcome. Perhaps most frightening is the fact that depression can lead directly to thoughts or actions of a suicidal nature. In fact, the highest rates of suicide are associated with depressive disorders.
Myth: Depression Is a Weakness
Depression is a biological and psychological condition that has nothing to do with how strong you are. The only reason depression is viewed as a weakness is that society has stigmatized the condition. Depression does not discriminate. No one decides to become depressed, just as they can’t decide to stop being depressed. It's a common assumption that depression affects those who are weak. What's worse is when people with depression believe a lack of strength is the root cause for their condition. The reality is, to navigate depression takes a tremendous amount of strength. Under the weight of depression, it is normal to underestimate what you are capable of.
Myth: Talking About Depression Only Makes Things Worse.
It’s a common misconception that discussing depression merely reinforces destructive feelings and keeps you focused on negative experiences in life. However, being alone with your thoughts is much more harmful than hashing them out. Talking about depression can help you overcome your symptoms.
Sometimes, people who suffer from depression feel like a burden to others but suffering in silence or feeling too ashamed to talk to someone often perpetuates the negative stigma of mental health conditions.
Anyone who you consider supportive, reliable, and a nonjudgmental listener can help address the concerns of feeling alone. However, in more difficult situations a licensed therapist can be better equipped to provide the support you need.
Myth: Everyone Experiences Depression in The Same Way.
The word depression is actually a lexicon, meaning that we frequently use a single term to describe a whole collection of symptoms or experiences. This can create the impression that depression is one thing, however, studies now show that people can experience a wide range of psychological, emotional, and physical symptoms during depressive episodes.
This means that not everyone with depression experiences every symptom associated with it. People may also experience or express depression differently based on factors such as gender, age, ethnicity and culture. As a result, this can also affect which treatment is the best option. It usually takes someone a while to figure out which medication or other treatment options work best for them.
Myth: You’re Only Depressed if You Can’t Get Out of Bed
Actually, you can be depressed and high-functioning. When the average person imagines depression, the first image you might conjure is someone laying around in a bathrobe, unable to get out of bed or go to work. While this may be the case for many with depression, the disorder doesn’t always appear the same in everyone who has it. There are plenty of depressed people who still leave their beds every morning to push through a day of work.
What many people refer to as high-functioning depression is actually persistent depressive disorder (PPD). While those with PDD experience symptoms similar and milder compared to those with major depressive disorder, they are also able to carry out daily activities amidst their symptoms. PDD can allow one to put on a happy face and appear well-adjusted to those around them, however, their depressive symptoms still lurk beneath their mask. Those who aren't as energetic likely have a different type of depression.
The Truth About Depression
If you are experiencing depression, know that it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong and there is no need to feel ashamed for feeling unable to cope. Depression is a common disorder that can have devastating effects on your life and fortunately, there are multiple highly effective methods for treating depression available to you. It doesn’t have to be a life-long struggle and the best way to feel better is if you don’t try doing it alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, I hope you’ll seek professional help from a licensed therapist. Equally, I welcome you to reach out to schedule a complementary 30 minute consultation to discuss your needs, and to explore the various options to help you overcome depression. Click on the schedule button below.
Simon G. Niblock, MA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in men’s mental health and wellness. He provides tailored psychotherapy services and online programs for men and is the author of the Anxiety Workbook for Men, Evidence-based Exercises to Manage Anxiety, Depression, and Worry.
Important Notice: The content in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace direct professional mental health, medical treatment, or professional care in any way. Seek the support of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider to diagnose and treat any mental health concern directly. Contact 911 or your local emergency services number if you are experiencing a mental health emergency.