Defining Depression: Common Myths

by | Feb 15, 2012

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

Did you know that according to National Mental Health Association, clinical depression affects more than 19 million Americans? It is a real illness that can be treated, but unfortunately, fewer than half seek the help they need. On top of that, many myths circulate about what depression is and what it isn’t.

First of all, depression is defined in the “bible” of the psychiatric community with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or the DSM, for short. The DSM recognizes a severe form of manic depression (Bipolar I) and a milder form (Bipolar II). It also defines Borderline Personality Disorder, an often misunderstood and hard-to-diagnose mental illness.

For Bipolar I, the patient must have experienced some form of mania with or without a depressive syndrome. A mania symptom can include inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative than usual, distractibility, increased activity or excessive involvement in high-risk activities. Those diagnosed with Bipolar I have delusions and sometimes hallucinations.

For Bipolar II, the patient has mild manias that aren’t as severe as those in Bipolar I and a diagnosis requires three or four manias as listed above. Bipolar II patients have long periods of low mood and their depressions are longer than their manias.

For Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the patient has an unstable self-image or sense of self, there is a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, the patient makes frantic efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment, there is recurrent suicidal behavior, there is lack of impulse control, there is instability due to mood, there are chronic feelings of emptiness, the patient can control his or her anger, and finally, there is transient, stress-related ideation, meaning that the patient has suicidal thoughts, without going through with the suicide.

Here are five common myths associated with depression and borderline personality disorder:

Myth: Depression is not a real mental illness
No, depression is caused by genetic and biological factors and patients with depression do have high levels of stress hormones in their bodies.

Myth: Depression will go away by itself or that it’s just like getting the “blues.”
No, some people with depression must treat it their entire lives, especially when they are exposed to stress events which can bring on depressive episodes. If depression is left untreated, the patient may resort to suicide. Depression is not just like having the “blues” because the blues may last a few days, while depression lasts a lifetime.

Myth: If someone in your family suffers from depression, then you’ll have it too.
No, you might be more likely to experience depression, but there is no guarantee you’ll suffer from depression. However, if you do experience symptoms such as these below, seek out a health professional

  • persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • reduced appetite, or increased appetite or weight gain
  • loss of pleasure in once-enjoyable activities
  • restlessness
  • chronic pain and digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • difficulty concentrating at work
  • fatigue or loss of energy
  • feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
  • thoughts of suicide or death


Myth: many health professionals don’t believe in the validity of borderline personality disorder since there’s a lot of overlap with other depressive disorders
No, BPD is a valid psychiatric diagnosis.

Myth: BPD can’t be treated
No, it is treatable via therapy and medicine Understanding depression is the first step in treating it and in treating the symptoms in loved ones. There is still stigma attached to having depression, but slowly and surely this is going away as more people realize that depression is not their fault and that it should be treated just as cancer or diabetes should be treated.

Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 1600 Dove Street, Suite 260, Newport Beach, CA 92660.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
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