Depression remains a serious—and often misunderstood—public health crisis.

About 17% of people in the U.S. will experience depression sometime in their lives. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people experiencing symptoms of depression has spiked. But despite that, there are still many persistent myths about this mental health condition. Being able to separate fact from fiction when it comes to depression can help you overcome it yourself or help a friend or loved one who is struggling.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s a time to raise awareness about suicide, educate people about recognizing the signs, and develop a deeper understanding of what might lead people to consider suicide. It’s also a time to promote resources to get help or connect someone you love with the resources they need.

Depression and suicide are often closely linked. Here, we clear up some of the most damaging misconceptions about depression.

Fiction: Depression is the same as feeling sad.

Fact: It’s normal to feel sad some of the time. But when you have depression those feelings of sadness persist. You might feel hopeless about the future, empty, or completely lose interest in the things that used to give you pleasure. Depression can also have physical symptoms, including:

  • Agitation or anger
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia, or sleeping much more than normal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent anxiety
  • Stomach pain
  • Suicidal thoughts

For someone with clinical depression, these symptoms and feelings can last for several weeks, months, or even years at a time.

Fiction: People who are depressed need to get over it.

Fact: There is a significant disconnect between mental health conditions and other illnesses. If someone has cancer or diabetes, you would never tell them to “just get over it.” We would not expect them to act like they didn’t have a disease or try to hide or ignore it. And you definitely wouldn’t discourage them from seeking help from a medical professional. Yet, people often believe that someone with depression needs to think more positively.

Like any disease or diagnosis, depression is tied to brain chemistry, structure, or function imbalances. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes the disease. Several factors can influence it, including your genetic makeup, traumatic events in your life, medications, or other physiological and psychological factors.

Like with physical diseases, someone with depression should seek help from a medical professional to find the right treatment.

Fiction: Depression is only triggered by traumatic events in life.

Fact: People experience depression for many different reasons. Sometimes it could be triggered by a traumatic event, such as losing a loved one, job loss, or a traumatic accident. But many other things could lead to depression, including:

  • Medications
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Pregnancy and childbirth

Sometimes people experience depression for no clear reason. But this doesn’t mean the depression isn’t real or is any less valid.

Fiction: Inability to deal with depression is a sign of weakness.

Fact: Depression often comes with the stigma that the person is weak or “not normal.” This makes people reluctant to seek help or embarrassed to reach out and get the treatment they need. It takes courage to speak up! And doing so not only gets the help you need but also helps reduce the stigma around this disease.

When someone shares they are depressed and need help, it’s important for family and loved ones to be supportive. Listen thoughtfully, and do not dismiss their feelings.

Understanding and destigmatizing depression can help prevent suicide.

There are resources available to help people cope with depression. If you or someone you know is experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 to speak to someone confidentially.