Depression is a serious illness that affects as many as 20 million adult Americans each year, along with their friends and loved ones. According to Dr. Kelly Miller of the University of Indianapolis Health and Counseling Center, this common mental health condition is subject to misconceptions that often keep people from seeking the help they need. The goal of the annual awareness observance is to dispel those myths and assist individuals in recognizing and understanding depression.

Myth: Depression is a personal or moral weakness.

Fact: Depression is an illness with no single cause. Heredity, chemical changes in the body, and significant life changes or stressors all can lead to a depressive episode.

Myth: Depression is only extreme sadness – “Snap out of it!”

Fact: Depression is more than sadness or having the “blues.” Symptoms of depression are much more pervasive and chronic and can lead to significant impairment in one or more areas of life.

Myth: Depressed people are lazy or looking for attention.

Fact: Actually, people with depression may attempt to hide their distress from others. Encourage them to talk about their depression and seek the help they need.

Warning signs of depression

Five or more can indicate clinical depression, most experts say.

• Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood

• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once found enjoyable

• Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or excessive guilt

• Fatigue or loss of energy

• Sleeping too little or too much

• Difficulty making decisions or diminished ability to concentrate

• Significant weight loss or weight gain when not dieting

• Suicidal thoughts or plans

Tips for recovery

• Recognize that depression is a treatable illness and seek appropriate treatment

• Talk to friends and family about your depression and let them help you

• Take part in some form of regular physical activity and exercise

• Recognize that recovery takes time; focus on the improvements you are making

• Curb the negative self-talk; what we say to ourselves influences our feelings

• Break large tasks into small ones and set realistic goals

• Postpone important decisions until the depression has lifted