Five myths about depression that need to be tackled – according to a counsellor

Mental health awareness is improving but, as counsellor Lynn Crilly tells Lisa Salmon, there's still work to be done

The fact that the biggest cause of death among men under the age of 50 is suicide clearly shows that men are also suffering with mental illness

WHETHER or not you've had to deal with some of life's hard knocks, whatever your background, depression doesn't discriminate.

It can hit for no reason, or creep in when you're forced to cope with tough life events. The condition affects around 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. But despite being relatively common, it still spawns many myths which often aren't helpful.

"Depression can affect people from all different walks of life, regardless of social background, age, gender, sexuality or ethnicity," says counsellor Lynn Crilly, author of Hope With Depression (Hammersmith Books, £16.99).

"It's a deep-rooted, debilitating and destructive mental illness that affects both the sufferers and their carers alike, and 'facts' are often quoted in relation to depression that are actually myths, which can prevent people from getting to grips with and really being able to understand depression."

Here, Crilly tackles some of the common myths...

1. It's obvious when people have depression

"Many people with depression hide it very successfully, or at least try their very hardest to. They may be so good at concealing how they really feel that only the most alert loved ones may see what's really happening behind that smile. This is where knowing someone well, and knowing what's normal for them, is vital. If they start showing unusual behaviour, perhaps sleeping or eating in a way that causes concern, dig deeper to see if depression or another mental illness could be the cause."

2. Antidepressants are the only way to treat depression

"Some people see antidepressant medication as something to be feared (and often avoided), because of concerns about its side-effects and whether it could lead to an addiction. Those concerns should certainly not be ignored, but neither should they put people off seeking medical help for depression.

"The best person to advise a patient about whether medication is suitable for them and what the effects of taking it might be is their GP. However, that's not to say all responsibility should be handed to a medical practitioner. The patient themselves, along with their loved ones, should ask about side-effects and remain alert to any potential problems they may cause.

"Medication is also only one line of treatment. It's not always needed and therapy or counselling can also be very effective, while other alternative therapies may also be helpful."

3. Depression affects mainly women

"While the number of women known to be suffering with depression is greater than the number of men, we also know men are much less likely to come forward to seek help for their symptoms, and in our 'macho' society, perhaps find it harder to talk about their state of mind.

"However, the shocking fact that the biggest cause of death among men under the age of 50 is suicide clearly shows that men are also suffering with mental illness, and they need to be right at the centre of the conversation about it.

"This myth that 'real men' don't get depression must also be scotched. Unfortunately, many men still believe depression is a kind of weakness and shouldn't be acknowledged. This makes the illness even more dangerous for men than women, as again they are less likely to ask for help."

4. There's no longer a taboo about depression

"Make no mistake, huge strides have been made in the way depression is recognised and understood. The younger generation of royals have led their own campaign, Heads Together, to help break the stigma around mental illness and change how wider society understands depression and other related illnesses. Suddenly it seemed awareness about these conditions had been placed firmly under the spotlight, and a real shift seems to have occurred in how mental illness is viewed at work, by the media, and in wider society.

"However, the battle is not won. People are still wary of admitting they have a mental illness, worried they'll be judged, excluded and even potentially put their careers at risk. There are still misconceptions about what mental illness really feels like, and there's still a long way to go in society's understanding of the issues."

5. You can't help people with depression

"You can't wave a magic wand and make the depression disappear, but you can support and care for someone with the illness and show them acceptance and understanding, and in doing so you'll help make their journey through depression easier to bear.

"Plus, appropriate professionals, teachers, youth workers and employers can play a very important role in ensuring they deal with depression appropriately, just as they would a physical illness. Society as a whole can help and support people with depression, by showing tolerance, acceptance and true understanding to those who suffer with it."

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