Advice to Ignore when Struggling with Depression
If you’ve ever struggled with depression, you may have discovered that, suddenly, everyone in your life thinks they have the expertise to guide you on the journey to healing. As a professional therapist, I have been on the receiving end of frustrated clients who listened to advice that, quite honestly, wasn’t helpful or clinically accurate. If you suffer from depression and are feeling overwhelmed by advice, go ahead and let these common statements roll off your back.
“You just have to put yourself out there.”
Friends and family usually say this out of a recognition that isolation and withdrawing from social situations can be a debilitating symptom of depression. That being said, I think there’s a better way to go about it. Yes, ultimately, you want to be able to meaningfully engage in social situations, such as seeing friends and going to work. But if you try to flood yourself with those experiences all at once while in the midst of a depressive episode, it can be more overwhelming.
Try this instead: incorporate one new social activity per month. It could be visiting with a close friend for coffee, working part-time, spending your afternoon in a coffee shop or library instead of at home. It is important to ease yourself into something new and make a realistic goal, but also to have support and stick to your goal, so you don’t use your comfort zone as an excuse.
Any medication advice that’s not coming from a professional
If you live in the U.S., you might not think much about prescription drug commercials. But actually, direct-to-consumer drug commercials are only legal in two countries- the US and New Zealand! And the reason is because of their effectiveness despite their misleading nature. What’s worse, you probably don’t think these types of ads affect you. However, these commercials really do work, despite providing limited realistic data in the ads and consumers generally not having the medical expertise to assess the ads properly.
An article from Scientific American reported a study from researchers at Dartmouth and the University of Wisconsin showed that around 60% of prescription drug ads touted information that was either misleading or blatantly false. And even when an ad is found to have false information, it’s not discontinued. The FDA typically notifies the company requesting they fix the discrepancies, but this can take months, if the company ever fixes the ad at all.
Source: Scientific American
Another study, by McKinlay and colleagues, randomized 192 physicians in various clinical settings and had “patients” either request a specific medication for a condition or passively request any medication for pain management. The physicians were significantly more likely to prescribe the requested medication than a particular medication when the request was more general.
Specifically, 20% of the physicians reported they would prescribe oxycodone for pain management, a highly addictive opiate by the way, when it was requested specifically, vs. 1% of physicians stated they would prescribe oxycodone when pain management was requested.
Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information
Could the requested medication be the best medication for that particular condition? Maybe. But the point is that both consumers and physicians are affected by pharmaceutical advertising, and the majority of that advertising is not even correct!
What does this mean for you as a patient? I would say it means that if you allow yourself to be taken by drug commercials or take the advice of others who are, you could end up being prescribed a medication without understanding the true side effects, withdrawal potential, possibility of negative effects, or even the true medical necessity for that drug.
Try this instead: Meet with a psychiatrist and discuss symptoms without requesting any specific medications. Try to keep an open mind during the appointment. There should be a balance between correcting any inaccurate assumptions by the doctor about your symptoms, and assuming that you already know the answer to your problem or your diagnosis. It might be helpful to see a doctor who specializes in holistic or integrative medicine as well, before assuming that mainstream medicine and pharmaceuticals are the best course of treatment.
“Try this to take the edge off.”
We tend to think that we’re immune to peer pressure once we’re adults, but I’ve seen too many examples showing otherwise. Most likely, you already want the pain to go away, you are having feelings you’d rather escape, you may be isolating and alone much of the time, and you may even be struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
All of these factors make it so easy for “Taking the edge off” to turn into an addiction. It may be tempting to start drinking a little more to, or try a friend’s Xanax, or turn to stimulants (can’t deny they boost your mood). And addictions don’t always come in the form of a substance. You may find that engaging in promiscuous sex, gambling, or other behaviors give you a rush and a mood boost that you are struggling to find within yourself.
All of these things work at first, but none of them last. They don’t cure depression; they just mask the symptoms. And when the high wears off and the crash sets in, your symptoms often come roaring back even more strongly than they were before. This can often lead to even more addictive behaviors in a desperate attempt to fight off the depression, or impulsive or suicidal behaviors. The best way to fight the cycle is to never start it.
“An antidepressant will fix it.”
First off, I'm not against antidepressants. They can be a huge help, and get people to a place where they can then pursue other goals, participate in therapy, exercise more, etc. In my opinion, that is the sole purpose of antidepressants.
For some, they are ineffective or even exacerbate symptoms, and the withdrawal symptoms attempting to get off antidepressants can be severely uncomfortable.
In cases of people who have a serotonin deficiency causing depressed mood, antidepressants can increase the brain’s serotonin levels and help boost that person’s mood. But not all cases of depression are caused by serotonin deficiencies, and we can’t really even test for that.
Try this instead: If you find that an antidepressant is helpful for you, take it. Along with that, meet with a therapist regularly, keep in touch with your prescribing physician, and practice self care.
By sorting through what is helpful advice and what isn’t, you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble on an already difficult journey through depression. Instead of getting overwhelming by advice from anyone and everyone, take the time to seek out professional help and find the supportive people who truly help. In the meantime, I hope these suggestions can help you avoid some of the more frustratingly incorrect, yet common, advice.