Despite how common major depressive disorder is in the United States, there are many misconceptions about the condition. Learn more about six common major depressive disorder myths.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is commonly known as clinical depression. This disorder is characterized by feelings of unrelenting sadness, decreased motivation and apathy. Individuals diagnosed with a major depressive disorder may have trouble functioning in their everyday lives. In the United States, major depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. 

Despite the fact that many people experience this disorder, there are several common myths surrounding major depressive disorder. Some people will struggle with only one major depressive episode, while others will struggle with multiple episodes throughout the course of their life. Major depression is twice as common in women than in men, indicating that female hormones may have a role in the development of this disorder. 

Myth: Most people with major depression do not seek professional help

Fact: The majority of individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder seek some form of treatment 

Just how many people with depression seek treatment? Based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted in 2017, most individuals with a major depressive disorder seek treatment. In recent years, the stigma associated with mental health issues has decreased substantially, encouraging individuals to get the help they need. In the past year, people diagnosed with a major depressive disorder received various types of care.

  • 65% of individuals received combined care by a health professional and medication treatment 
  • Of individuals receiving treatment, 6% received medication only
  • 15% saw a health professional only 

Despite the number of people who receive treatment, the depression treatment gap is still quite large as 35% of individuals with depression received no treatment. Individuals that exhibit major depressive symptoms should not be afraid to get professional help. Many health insurances now provide fully covered access to psychologists and psychiatrists. 

Myth: Major depressive disorder is rare

Fact: Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States

How common is major depressive disorder? The National Institute on Mental Health data estimates that major depressive disorder impacts just over 17 million adults with an overall prevalence of 7.1% in the United States. This disorder is one of the more common mental health conditions and disproportionately impacts individuals by age, sex and ethnicity. Statistics on major depressive disorder include:

  • Major depressive disorder disproportionately affects women (8.7%) over men (5.3%), likely due to the role of sex hormones on mood
  • Individuals ages 18–25 have the highest rates of major depressive disorder (13.1%) relative to adults ages 26–49 (7.7%) or adults older than 50 (4.7%)
  • Caucasian Americans (7.9%), American Indian/Alaska Natives(8.0%) and Americans that are two or more ethnicities (11.3%) have the highest rates of major depressive disorder relative to other ethnicities
  • Hispanic Americans (5.4%), African Americans (5.4), Asian Americans (4.4) and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander (4.7) have the lowest rates of major depressive order

Myth: People are always depressed for a reason

Fact: There is not always a specific reason why people feel depressed

Some individuals may have a very specific reason why they are depressed (e.g. a death in the family, experiencing a miscarriage, divorce, etc.), but this is not the case for everyone experiencing a major depressive disorder. Some individuals may have no tangible reason for their depression. On the surface, their lives appear normal and they may have strong relationships with family and friends, yet underneath, these individuals are quite depressed. Some common reasons for depression include:

  • Feeling disconnected with family, friends, yourself
  • Feeling like your life makes no difference in the world, or there is no meaning to life
  • Strong dislike of current life circumstances like a job or a relationship
  • Experiencing neglect or abuse 
  • Lack of a support system
  • Feeling overwhelmed with life
  • Stressful life events (birth of a child, a death in the family, car accident, etc.)
  • Family history of mental health conditions
  • Feeling that the way society or the world operates is wrong

Depression is a deeply intimate and personal condition. The cause of one person’s depression may be extremely different from another’s, though both people exhibit the same symptoms. Depression also causes people to feel extremely lonely even though many other people in the world are experiencing the same or similar feelings. It is important for individuals to remember that they are never fully alone in their depression, though it may feel that way. 

Myth: Major depression is easy to spot

Fact: A major depressive disorder is not always easy to spot in certain individuals 

Depending on the specific individual, depression will be easier or harder to spot based on the person’s behavior when they are not clinically depressed. Some individuals are fully aware they are depressed but try to hide it from friends, acquaintances or loved ones so as not to cause concern. However, there are several physical signs and symptoms an individual who is experiencing depression typically exhibits: 

  • Uncharacteristic low mood 
  • Becoming apathetic 
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Decline in work or school performance
  • Uncharacteristic tiredness, or conversely, being unable to sleep (e.g. insomnia)
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • No desire to interact with others
  • No desire to partake in activities that used to bring a person happiness
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Problems concentrating or decreased memory
  • Feeling stupid, hopeless, worthless or not good enough 
  • Feeling like a person would be better off dead, or that no longer feeling pain would be better than their current state
  • Feeling trapped by life circumstances

It should be noted that major depressive disorder can occur with varying severity, and includes several subtypes. Signs and symptoms may drastically differ based on the subtype of major depressive disorder that is diagnosed. 

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Myth: Major depressive disorder is untreatable

Fact: Major depressive disorder has many evidence-based treatments

Individuals may opt in or out of certain treatments for depression. In recent years, emphasis has been placed on treating the whole patient rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease. In other words, a person may start taking an antidepressant, but will still feel depressed after an initial positive response to the drug. A prescription medication cannot “fix” depression nor improve a person’s fundamental happiness. Treating depression requires help from professionals, whether that be prescription medication or behavioral therapy, as well as addressing aspects of an individual’s personal life that are causing them stress and strife. Some treatment options for major depressive disorder include:

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Medications including antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and others
  • Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage, etc. 
  • Changes in diet
  • Exercise
  • Travel
  • Volunteering, particularly helping the less fortunate 

Based on recent data, many patients with major depressive disorder have an unfavorable prognosis. Medication or therapy alone cannot cure or fix depression. Personal and life changes need to be made that address the root causes of a person’s depression beyond genetic and environmental factors. 

Myth: MDD is a purely psychological disorder

Fact: Major depressive disorder is a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors

From a genetic or biological standpoint, there are a few potential causes of major depression.  Unfortunately, research on this subject is difficult to conduct. Scientists have not yet been able to pinpoint one specific gene that is responsible for causing depression. This is not to say that specific genes will not be identified in the future, but it is more likely that depression is based on a culmination of genetic, environmental and predisposing psychological factors than a purely genetic cause. 

There are also several environmental factors that may play a role in the development of depression. Depression can be triggered or brought on by using substances like alcohol and other drugs, stressful life events or drastic changes, new medications, social and economic problems, feeling isolated, neglect, abuse and physical illness like cancer, to name a few. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with major depressive disorder and co-occurring addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Contact a representative today to discuss options for treating depression and addiction together.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

Genetics Home Reference. “Depression.” May 28, 2019. Accessed June 2, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Major Depression.” February 2019. Accessed June 1, 2019.

Adams, Kevin T; Adams, Tricia W; et al. “Results from the 2017 National Survey on[…]lth:Detailed Tables.” National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2019.

Verduijn, Judith; Verhoeven, Josine; et al. “Reconsidering the prognosis of major dep[…]ather than the rule.” BMC Med, December 12, 2017. Accessed June 2, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.