'I’m Depressed, Not a Toddler,' and Other Things People Need to Understand About Depression

Depression is one of those things that everyone has heard about, but few understand. I often joke that depression is like panda bears in that everyone is familiar with them, but most people have never seen one in real life and even fewer have touched one. Yet, we all feel as if they are commonplace. Because of misconception, stereotype and just plain old lack of education, our society knows precious little about depression. Sadly, this doesn’t stop people from believing they know all about it.

I hate being depressed. Not exactly an earth-shattering admission. I don’t really think there are many people who enjoy being sad, let alone feeling the soul-sucking emptiness that is depression.

I do, believe it or not, appreciate the attempts of my loved ones who try so hard to “pick me up” when I’m down. However, I think their attempts might be more successful if they stopped accepting a few common misconceptions about depression.

1. I’m Depressed, Not a Toddler

Just because I’m depressed doesn’t mean I’m suddenly not an adult. In layman’s terms, I want to make it clear: Depression does not equal regression to childhood.

I say this because, almost without exception, people will talk to me like I’m a 4-year-old once they discover I’m struggling with depression. I wish this illness was so insignificant that a couple of well placed “atta boys” and maybe a little condescending baby talk could snap me right out of it. But, consider this:

If it’s so easy to cure that the random musings that soothe an infant worked to “fix it,” why are doctors, scientists and researchers working so hard all over the world to find treatments? Just hire someone’s granny to wander around tickling depressed people and, violá, problem solved.

2. I’m Depressed, Not Stupid

Just because I’m depressed doesn’t mean I’m no longer intelligent. I will acknowledge that depression does cause some cognitive impairment in the form of slower thinking, being unaware of my surroundings and so forth.

However, it doesn’t mean I don’t understand what you’re saying. Condescending tones, language and treatment will upset me just as much when depressed — if not more so — as it would when I’m perfectly well.

It’s not rude to talk to me like an adult, because I am an adult. I’m just sick. Treating me like I’m stupid is not only unhelpful, but it makes me feel more isolated and more stuck. I’m also less likely to believe you when you remind me that I’m wanted, needed and loved.

3. Depression Is Not Sadness

The biggest, most persistent and most common misconception surrounding depression is that it is the same as common sadness. It’s understandable how people can make this mistake. We use “depressed” in common parlance to indicate sadness. We relabeled “manic depression” to “bipolar disorder” and it would be helpful if we either started saying “clinical depression” or changed the diagnosis name to “unipolar disorder.” This, in my opinion, would clear up some of the confusion.

I’m guilty of spreading this misconception myself. When I describe bipolar disorder I say that it “exists on a spectrum from very sad to very happy.” This is my shorthand way of explaining depression and mania to the general public. (FYI: mania is not very happy, either.)

At best, I’m using a poor analogy and, at worst, I’m straight up wrong. Sadness and depression have about as much in common as a gentle rain and a hurricane. Just because both are weather events and both contain water doesn’t make them the same. That also holds true for sadness and depression.

Sadness is a component of depression and both are moods, but the similarities pretty much end there. This is important to know because if you suggest a person “just grab an umbrella” and head out in a hurricane, you’ve done that individual a great disservice. People suffering from depression can’t “just cheer up” and it’s frustrating to be told we can.

Educate Yourself About Depression

If you want to help someone who is suffering from depression, then you must first educate yourself. This can be as simple as exploring PsychCentral.com and learning more or asking the person what you can do to be helpful.

You can also make an appointment with a psychologist or therapist and discuss ways to be an ally in your friend’s fight against depression. The best advice is often the simplest:

Don’t assume you know what to do. A little knowledge and effort goes a long way.

To see more from Gabe Howard, visit his site

All rights reserved. A version of this article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com as “3 Common Myths About Depression.” Reprinted here with permission.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Depression

Couple sleeping in bed

When Depression Affects Your Sex Life

Yes, it’s true — having depression impacts your sex life. But it’s not just because of medication. Since 2004, I’ve dealt with the sexual side effects of taking antidepressants. Feelings of sluggishness. Lack of desire. Occasional discomfort during sex. It’s a trade-off I’ve been willing to make because being healthy and stable is my number one [...]
black and white photo of a young woman in hat touching reflection in mirror

The 4 Words My Therapist Said That I Will Never Forget

It was a family therapy session, and I was getting overwhelmed. My dad had said something that had me confused, and the combination of difficulty processing that comes with PANS/PANDAS and my anxiety had my brain feeling like it was sucked into a whirlwind. I couldn’t figure out what he had said, at no fault of his, but I [...]
Woman Lying In Bed Checking Messages On Mobile Phone

Negotiating With the Voice of My Depression in the Morning

It’s morning, and my alarm just went off for the third time. I don’t remember what time I fell asleep, but I know it was late. Two a.m., maybe? I know I woke up around 4:30 a.m., tossing and turning because I couldn’t get comfortable. I look at the clock; it’s 8:30. I see my [...]
dark painting of a woman

When Depression and Anxiety Double Team You

Depression is a b*tch. And she lies. A lot. She tells you all the right things to make you feel like the worst person in the world. She knows which buttons to push and which wounds to poke. She fills your head with horrible things and convinces you they are absolute truth. Sometimes, she even [...]