Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health issues on the planet. There are some truly staggering statistics on how many people are suffering from these conditions, and how few receive appropriate care.
In the United States alone, an estimated 18% of the population—40 million people—have some form of anxiety (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).
Even though anxiety is one of the biggest mental health problems in America, access to good treatment remains limited. In fact, studies show that only 10% will receive proper, effective treatment for anxiety.
It’s a similar story with depression. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates nearly 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In some countries, fewer than 10% get any kind of treatment.
Depression is closely linked with high suicide rates (nearly 800,000 per year globally), and is the leading cause of disability. Some experts believe that by 2020, depression will be the second-most common health problem in the world
Depression is often misdiagnosed, treated with the wrong medications—and in many cases, people suffering from either depression or anxiety (or both) are simply too embarrassed to seek help.
Which brings us to the topic of today’s post: debunking harmful myths around anxiety and depression. These myths perpetuate the cycle of ignorance, fear, and shame surrounding poor mental health—creating critical barriers to treatment and recovery.
Myth #1: Anxiety disorders aren’t a real thing—some people are just naturally "nervous"
While it’s true that some people are a bit more high-strung and prone to stress than others, there is nothing “natural” about a legitimate anxiety disorder.
Occasional worries and stress are normal. Worries that don’t go away, and worsen over time, are not. Anxiety disorders are characterized by specific, clearly identifiable symptoms, which include:
- Struggling to control feelings of worry
- Muscle tension
- Recurring irritability
- Panic attacks
- Imagining worst case scenarios
- Fear of a specific thing or experience (spiders, heights, airplanes, injections, etc.)
- Sweating, trembling, or shaking (“fight or flight” response)
- Low self esteem
- Often feeling nervous in social situations
- Being quick to anger
- Often feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- Feeling disconnected from reality and life in general
These experiences and emotions are far beyond the typical worries of day-to-day life. They are very hard to control, and have a negative impact on the sufferer’s life at home, school, work, and overall health.
Myth #2: Anxiety disorders are all the same
Actually, there are several recognized types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms and related issues.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Specific Phobia
Myth #3: Medication is the best treatment for anxiety
Medications such as antidepressants can be used to treat anxiety, but they are by no means the only approach. In fact, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CTB) is a well-established, highly effective, and lasting treatment for anxiety.
CBT is a goal-focused approach. Patients learn practical skills/tools they can use to manage anxiety on a daily basis. Benefits of CBT include:
- Learning to identify, understand, and change thinking habits in order to feel better
- Maintaining a sense of control and self-confidence
- Patients are actively involved in the recovery process
- Hands-on, practical approach to problem solving that delivers real results
- Patients learn coping skills that can be used in all areas of life
Myth #4: Anxiety can be cured
A certain degree of anxiety is inherent to our nature as humans. Without it, we wouldn’t know how to sense and react to danger—and protect ourselves when under threat. Therefore, anxiety is not something that can (or should) be removed altogether or “cured”.
However, people can learn ways to “re-program” their reactions to situations and events that typically prompt a disproportionate level of stress. CBT is a key approach to “re-wiring” the brain, so the flight or fight response is not so easily triggered.
Myth #5: Anxiety issues stem from a troubled childhood
It’s true that some people who suffer from anxiety disorders experienced troubling or traumatic childhoods—but this is definitely not always the case.
Some people have a wonderful childhood, and still have anxiety. That is why treatment usually focuses on the here and now, rather than a deep analysis of past events.
Studies have shown that being present in the moment, and practicing mindfulness meditation, can help alleviate anxiety and mental stress.
Myth #6: People with depression can just “snap out of it”
This myth stems from the belief that depression is merely a “bad mood” or case of the blues. There’s a very toxic idea that people suffering from depression have the means to pull themselves out of it...but they are either unwilling, or too weak, to do so.
A connection is made between depression and personal weakness and failure. It is a powerful stigma that stops millions of people from seeking the treatment they deserve. Depression is not a choice; it is mental health disorder.
Myth #7: If you’re still functioning well, you must not be depressed
People suffering from depression often do so invisibly. They continue going to work and living their lives, struggling to appear “normal” and keep up with their obligations.
Depression doesn’t always come with clear signs of illness—like the flu or a broken leg—so many sufferers don’t feel entitled to take time off work or school.
Self-blame, guilt, and confusion over the source of the depression often haunt people with this mental health disorder. There is a strong tendency to suffer in silence.
Myth #8: Depression is difficult to treat
In fact, with early diagnosis and effective interventions, depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. CBT is considered a highly effective treatment for depression, along with psychoanalysis, meditation/mindfulness, and medication.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.”
Myth #9: Depression stems from a sad event or significant loss
A serious loss or sad experience can trigger depression—but in many cases, there is no obvious root cause. Depression is characterized by unexplained feelings of sadness, hopelessness, an inability to cope with life, and a state of emotional “numbness”.
A depressive episode may arise suddenly and inexplicable, even when everything else in the patient’s life appears to be going well.
In fact, there is no one “cause” of depression. Research shows that depression springs from several combined factors, including:
- faulty mood regulation by the brain
- genetic vulnerability
- stressful life events
- medical problems
Myth #10: If your parents suffered from depression, you probably will too
In the past, research seemed to confirm the depression was strongly “heritable”. In other words, if your parents or grandparents suffered from depression, there was a good chance that you would too.
New studies have debunked this belief. The latest research shows that having a relative with depression only slightly increases your risk for getting depression (10 to 15%).
Other factors are more important when assessing risk—such as life events, the kinds of coping skills you’ve learned, other medical or mental health issues you’re facing, etc.
Further reading on community mental health issues:
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