Separating fact from fiction can help us overcome the misconceptions many people still have about depression.

For a long time, people viewed having or talking about depression as taboo, and the stigma surrounding the condition has led to many misconceptions.

But depression is a common mental health condition that affects 280 million people worldwide.

The dialogue around mental health and wellness has changed in recent years. People are more open than ever about the effects of depression and other mental health conditions on everyday life.

Despite this shift, however, some old misconceptions still exist.

Knowing the facts can help us dispel these lingering myths and help people better understand depression.

Types of depression

There are several types of depression, each with its own symptoms and criteria. Some of the most commonly diagnosed types are:

There are many myths that people both with and without depression still believe. Here are some of the most common ones:

Myth: Isn’t depression for people who are really sensitive or emotional?

FACT: Depression doesn’t target any specific group of people or personality type. Anyone can develop depression.

Experts still don’t truly know what causes depression — is it genetics, behaviors, environment, or everything?

What we do know is that our brain cells use chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) to send messages to our brains that regulate our functions, including our mood.

There are three neurotransmitters currently linked to our mood: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When our brains produce either too many or too few of these chemicals, their levels become unbalanced. This may lead to depression or other mental health disorders.

Physical and emotional symptoms unfold over time as chemical changes take place internally. Because of this, depression can affect anyone — regardless of how deeply you feel emotions or how sensitive you may be.

Myth: Depression is essentially being really sad, right?

FACT: Depression can involve sadness and feeling upset — but its symptoms go beyond that.

Depression also affects each person differently, so sometimes sadness isn’t the main symptom. Depressive symptoms can be emotional, cognitive, psychological, or physical, and can vary in severity, duration, and impact.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • unexplained feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, despair, or guilt
  • increased anger or irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • sleep issues, including insomnia or extreme fatigue
  • changes in appetite and weight
  • loss of self-confidence
  • isolating or withdrawing from loved ones
  • lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • low energy
  • unexplained aches or pains

Symptoms can sometimes occur out of nowhere at times and have deep and lasting effects. In some cases, this can lead to thoughts of suicide and harming yourself or others.

You’re not alone. If you need to talk to someone right away, you can:

Not in the U.S.? You can find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.

Myth: If your mother or father has depression, then you’ll get it, too

FACT: Many people with parents, siblings, or other close relatives with depression do not have the condition themselves.

While, yes, having a family history of depression can raise your chances of developing depression, genetics is not the only factor to consider. Environmental and psychological elements can also contribute to someone developing it.

Other possible contributing factors of depression include:

  • certain medications
  • co-existing mental health conditions
  • traumatic events
  • substance use
  • chronic physical illness
  • gender identity
  • poor diet and nutrition
  • chronic stress
  • certain personality traits

Myth: You can turn depression around with positive thinking and affirmations

FACT: Positive thinking and affirmations can be helpful ways to cope with depression, but they are not a cure for the condition. These strategies often work best when they’re used as part of a larger treatment plan.

Research from 2015 suggests that using affirmation statements can activate the brain’s reward system, which could influence your mood and emotions. This may help ease depression symptoms by helping you reframe your thinking.

Practicing positive thinking can also help you shift your outlook when thoughts directly target negative thought patterns that contribute to depression.

But extreme positivity can become harmful.

Toxic positivity can create false narratives of situations, make it difficult to express emotions, and force you to avoid issues or challenges you face — rather than work to overcome them.

Myth: Kids can’t get depression

FACT: Depression can develop at any age, even during childhood.

From 2016 to 2019, nearly 2.7 million U.S. children between ages 3–17 were diagnosed with depression. Some people may believe kids can’t get depression because symptoms often manifest differently in children and teens than they do in adults.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, young children may be worried that something bad may happen to themselves or their parents, or they may experience separation anxiety. Kids might also act out in school or even refuse to go.

Adolescents may behave irritable or moody. Teens with depression are more likely to also experience changes in weight or appetite, sleep problems, or shifts in energy levels.

Children may also have other mental health conditions alongside depression, such as:

You can bookmark these online resources

There are many online resources to help you cope with depression. To find therapy and support, here are some options:

Depression is a common mental health condition that affects millions of people around the world — kids, teens, all genders, and all personality types.

Researchers don’t know everything about depression — like if it starts in the brain or from external environmental stressors — but they’re learning more every day.

We do know that depression is linked to brain chemistry changes and thought processes that medication and talk therapy can help with.

While past views of depression have been less than favorable, today’s conversations around mental health and wellness are helping people better understand the condition.

If you want to learn even more about depression, we’ve put together resources at Psych Central’s depression hub.