Myths About Depression You Shouldn’t Believe

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. However, despite its prevalence, stigmas, myths, stereotypes, and misunderstanding surrounds this serious condition. Staying aware of the facts surrounding depression can help you have more empathy, compassion, and understanding for yourself or those in your community experiencing it.

Depression can be difficult to understand

Common depression myths to avoid 

Below are some of the most common myths and stigmas about depression. If you hear these or have previously shared them, consider educating yourself and those around you to halt these false beliefs in their tracks. 

False: Depressed people are "just lazy" 

Depression is a real mental illness with a list of symptoms that cause moderate to severe functioning. These symptoms may include the following: 

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities 

  • Decreased energy

  • Fatigue or difficulty sleeping 

  • A lack of focus

  • Difficulty with memory or decision-making

  • Slower movements or pace of speech

These symptoms can cause a significant change in energy levels. However, this change does not mean someone is lazy. Depression can take one's energy and willpower from them, making it much more challenging to wake up, get out of bed, or practice hygiene. It does not reflect one's personality or desire to get better. Instead, prolonged energy loss is a symptom of an illness, much like coughing is a symptom of the flu. 

False: People with depression shouldn't be sad because someone else has it worse

In some cases, well-intentioned friends or family may try to help you with your depression by talking about someone else who has gone through an extraordinarily difficult or heartbreaking situation. They may think they can pull you out of your depression by convincing you that what you're going through isn't harmful or that there's "no reason" for you to be sad.  

However, depression doesn't work that way. Depression is a mental illness that can occur to anyone at any time. It often has a biological and environmental origin and can also be hereditary. Two people who have gone through similar experiences may cope in entirely different ways because they have different mindsets, backgrounds, or vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to particular challenges. 

Comparing yourself to others who have gone through tragic or traumatic experiences may only make you see yourself in a more negative light. Everyone copes in different ways and moves past difficulties at various speeds. Try to be patient with yourself and others, despite how long it might take. 

False: "You can't be depressed because…"

Another myth people may spread to those with depression is pointing out why they believe they "can't be experiencing depression." A friend or family member might try to direct your attention to positive events in your life. For example, they may mention your job, family, health, money, or home. While they may believe they are being helpful, forced positivity is not a realistic treatment for depression. Depression can develop for anyone, including those with no systemic oppression, poverty, or traumatic experiences in their lives. 

Another way this myth might be employed is through guilt. Someone may tell you, "You can't be depressed because you have a family to care for," or "You can't be depressed because people depend on you." While the intention here may be to show you how valued you are, it could cause worsened symptoms. Your duties in life don't change the fact that depression can be debilitating. In these cases, reaching out for professional support may be paramount. 


False: Depression isn't real, and people just need to exercise

Often, those unfamiliar with the treatments available for depression may believe someone can be "cured" through diet and exercise alone. While diet and exercise can impact mood and have been proven helpful in managing some symptoms of depression, evidenced-based treatments like talk therapy and medication are the proven treatments for this condition. Exercise alone cannot treat depression. If you are experiencing depression, let your doctor know. They can help you develop a personalized treatment plan. 

False: Only ______ get depressed

In some cases, people think that only a specific type of person can experience depression. They might think depression can only impact someone of a certain age, gender, race, social status, career, or lifestyle. They may also make assumptions about character. However, depression doesn't discriminate. Anyone can be affected at any stage of life. 

A few risk factors that can increase your chances of developing depression include the following: 

  • Family history of depression or other mental illnesses

  • Previous episodes of depression

  • Chronic stress

  • A traumatic event or events in your past 

  • Significant changes in life 

  • Physical health conditions

  • Medications 

  • Substance use 

You might also note that depression can affect someone with none of these risk factors. People with a seemingly "perfect" life may face challenges under the surface, so stereotyping what "depression looks like" may lead to someone not asking for help. This phenomenon has often been found in men, who may face unique stigmas about seeking support for conditions like depression. 

False: Depression isn't real

Some people believe depression isn't an actual illness. They might confuse depression with other uncomfortable temporary feelings such as sadness or grief. Depression is one of many health conditions that people doubt or disbelieve because they can't physically see its effects.

However, depression is real, serious, and scientifically understood. Researchers have found many biological and environmental influences on the condition and have studied the success of its many treatments. There is more than one depressive disorder in the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual used by professionals to diagnose individuals, including the following: 

  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)

  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

  • Substance or medication-induced depressive disorder

  • Depressive disorder due to another condition

  • Other specified depressive disorder

  • Unspecified depressive disorder

  • Postpartum depression (PPD) 

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) 

False: Depression lasts forever

Some people living with depression may believe their condition will last forever or always be severe. One of the significant symptoms of depression is hopelessness. Depression can make people believe their feelings are permanent, that there's no hope, or that depression is part of their personality. If you have these thoughts, it can be helpful to know that it's a common symptom, and these thoughts often do not reflect reality. 

Depression doesn't have to last forever. There are many treatments for the condition that are effective. Some professionals recommend a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. However, consult your therapist to understand the best treatment plan for you. 

False: No one understands what it's like to be depressed 

Another myth you may tell yourself about depression is that no one else understands what you are going through. However, the numbers say otherwise. Over 280 million people worldwide are living with this condition, meaning you're not alone no matter where you go. 

In addition, there may be many support options for you in your area. Check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter or other non-profit organizations where you live. Many significant cities have support groups, peer support, education, or awareness events to connect you with others with depression. 

False: I'm not sad enough to be depressed

There are many depictions of depression in the media, and you may also have people in your life with this condition. Your struggle with depression might look different from someone else's. However, that doesn't mean your diagnosis is necessarily false. Depression doesn't look a specific way and can affect everyone differently. You don't have to reach a certain level of sadness or hopelessness before you can ask for help. If you think you might be living with depression or have been diagnosed, you deserve support. 

False: You have to take medication if you have depression 

In some cases, people don't reach out for help when they're depressed because they've been told that they must take medication to see improvements. There can be several reasons why someone might not want to take medication. In some cases, they may be afraid of side effects or social stigma. In others, they may not be comfortable talking to their doctor about what they are experiencing.

Knowing that medication is only one of many treatment options can be helpful. If you have reservations about trying medication, talking to a therapist about lifestyle changes and working through an evidence-based treatment modality may be helpful. Therapy can often be as effective as medication. 

False: You shouldn't take medication

Some people may benefit from medication to manage their depression. If your depression is not responding to other treatment options, ask your doctor about a prescription. People take medication for many health challenges, including infections, cancer, and chronic health conditions. Taking medication for a mental health concern is no different. 

If others have steered you away from medications or you have been hesitant to use them in the past, try discussing your fears with your doctor. They can answer any questions you have about medication. 

Depression can be difficult to understand

Support options 

When you aren't familiar with a mental health condition like depression, it can be easy to believe misconceptions about the condition. Depression can be difficult to comprehend because it impacts everyone in different ways. However, you may find comfort in knowing that the condition is well-understood among doctors and mental health professionals, and support is available. 

If you struggle to get out of bed or aren't comfortable meeting with a provider in person, you may benefit from reaching out to a therapist online through a platform like BetterHelp. You can connect via video, phone, or live chat through an online platform. In addition, you can connect with a therapist specializing in depression to get evidence-based support.  

Online counseling can be an effective treatment option for those experiencing depression. In a study of an internet-based psychodynamic intervention for adolescents with a low mood, researchers found a statistically significant reduction in depressive symptoms and emotion dysregulation by the end of treatment. They concluded that online therapy can be a feasible alternative to in-person options. 


There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding depression that may deter people from reaching out for support. It can be essential to receive factual information about depression, as myths can perpetuate harmful stigmas and stereotypes. 

Increasing your understanding of depression can be a vital step toward recognizing when you or someone you love might benefit from support. If you're struggling with symptoms of depression and are interested in alternative forms of support, reach out to an online or in-person therapist to get started. You're not alone.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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