Anyone who has suffered from depression or knows someone who does, has struggled with the stigma attached to the imbalance.
In 1999 the U.S. Surgeon General labeled stigma as perhaps the biggest barrier to mental health care, noted Michael Friedman Ph.D. Michael Friedman in Pyschology Today. "This stigma manifests particularly in a phenomenon known as social distancing, whereby people with mental issues are more isolated from others."
The myths that are associated with depression are numerous and, as myths go, innacurate. They include people with depression are just feeling sorry for themselves and need to snap out of it, or that depression is nothing more than sadness. Or that depression is a sign of mental weakness, is brought on by traumatic life events or that it's not even a real illness. Men are particularly susceptible to the myths of depression, because around the world they have been raised to believe they can't show any weakness and are often ridiculed if they do.
One of the most distressing things about these stereotypes is that people with depression often internalize them, and fail to get the help they need to survive and thrive.
"This self-stigma will often undermine self-efficacy, resulting in a 'why try' attitude that can worsen prospects of recovery," noted Friedman. "This stigma doesn't just worsen outcomes on a personal level, but also complicates the care and resources available to people with mental illness."
And to make matters worse, people with depression are often ostracized, victims of social distancing, by friends and family members that also fall victim to the stereotypes related to the disease. "It has long been understood that social isolation is associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes and even early mortality — 'the lethality of loneliness,'" wrote Friedman.
Many people who get help require a combination of drugs and cognitive therapy, but for up to one-third of people who suffer from depression, medication has no positive effects. But recent research has shown there might be new hope for those people and all people who suffer from depression.
"Recent history is telling us if we want to make therapeutic breakthroughs in an area which remains incredibly important in terms of disability and suffering then we've got to think differently," Prof. Ed Bullmore, the head of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC.
Bullmore's focus is on a malfunctioning immune system causing inflammation in the body and altering mood. "Depression and inflammation often go hand in hand, if you have flu, the immune system reacts to that, you become inflamed and very often people find that their mood changes too," he told the BBC. "Their behavior changes, they may become less sociable, more sleepy, more withdrawn."
Inflammation is part of the immune system's response to danger, noted the BBC. "If inflammation is too low then an infection can get out of hand. If it is too high, it causes damage. About one-third of depressed patients have consistently high levels of inflammation."
Researchers are coming round to the notion that inflammation is more than something that is found in depressed patients, and is actually causing it. Doctors and researchers who focus on mental health are now working in conjunction with those who study the diseases of an overactive immune system, such as Rheumatoid arthritis. Drugs that are given to alleviate inflammation in patients has also been shown to elevate mood.
"When we give these therapies we see a fairly rapid increase in a sense of well-being, mood state improving quite remarkably often disproportionately given the amount of inflammation we can see in their joints and their skin," Prof. Iain McInnes, a consultant rheumatologist, told the BBC.
When it comes to depression and other mental illnesses, we need to discard the tired tropes that have not served anyone, especially those who suffer and their loved ones. This new research indicates what many of us already know — mental illness has a biological basis and with the right kind of attention, it can be treated effectively.