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7 Myths About Mood Disorders Dispelled

Don’t allow these common misconceptions to prevent or delay treatment

Published on: May 26, 2023

Teenager wearing a blue t-shirt looking at the camera

Editor’s note: This article was sponsored by THIRA Health.

Having a mood disorder can be difficult to navigate, especially when there is a lot of misinformation and myths surrounding it. The many misconceptions about borderline personality disorder (BPD), anxiety and depression treatment may make people question if they are the right candidate for an available treatment or if that treatment will work for them. Likewise, it can also be hard to find clear answers for how best to support a friend or loved one with BPD, anxiety or depression.

Bellevue-based THIRA Health offers clinical care ranging from 24-hour residential for adolescents, partial hospitalization for ages 13 and older, and intensive outpatient services; it serves women, teen girls and gender-nonconforming individuals who are dealing with these mood and personality disorders. The THIRA team believes that quality treatment begins by busting myths and offering correct information. Following are some myths related to BPD, anxiety and depression treatment, along with information about available evidence-based options to help point you in the right direction for treatment.

Borderline personality disorder treatment myths

Myth 1: BPD behavior is just attention-seeking behavior and should be ignored.
BUSTED: The behaviors often associated with BPD (such as suicidal ideation, self-harming, impulsivity) are not attention-seeking behaviors — and ignoring them can be fatal. Myths like this perpetuate a negative stigma around an already widely misunderstood diagnosis. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based treatment that was specifically developed to treat BPD. It is effective in treating the underlying causes of these behaviors, and aims to teach emotional-regulation and distress-tolerance skills so that an individual with BPD can live a fulfilling life without daily interruptions caused by these behaviors.

Myth 2: BPD only affects women.
BUSTED: Because BPD is such a stigmatized diagnosis and is often misunderstood as someone being “difficult” or “emotional,” there is a trend of more females being diagnosed than males because of stereotypes and biases. The truth is that BPD can affect both males and females, and everyone needs access to quality treatment. It is important for people with borderline personality disorder to receive treatment from a licensed mental health professional.

Anxiety treatment myths

Myth 1: The best coping skills for anxiety are distraction techniques.
BUSTED: Some people believe that distraction techniques or self-medication will make anxiety disappear. While it’s true that these tactics may help alleviate anxiety symptoms in the short term, in reality, they do nothing to help an anxiety sufferer chip away at the source of anxiety within them. Numbing oneself through alcohol, sleep, or a food or Netflix binge is not going to provide any long-term relief. Distraction coping skills are only helpful when paired with coping skills that allow the individual to process and practice a different outcome in the moment of stress.

Myth 2: Medications for anxiety are addictive, so you shouldn’t seek treatment.
BUSTED: While it’s true that anxiety medications, namely benzodiazepines, are incredibly addictive, any medication can be abused, and it isn’t guaranteed that an anti-anxiety medication will end up being a part of a patient’s treatment plan. Typically, anxiety treatment is most successful when medication management is combined with therapy and the care of thoughtful and experienced medical professionals who are interested in creating a sustainable recovery plan for the patient, not just pushing pharmaceuticals. The most important part of treatment for patients is learning the skills available through DBT (i.e., mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness), and using those skills to build up a defense against anxiety.

Myth 3: If you have an anxiety disorder, it is important to avoid situations that make you feel “stressed.”
BUSTED: Anxiety that is managed and treated should not regularly interfere with daily life. Treatments such as DBT can help patients learn valuable coping skills for managing anxiety and rethinking anxious thoughts so that the anxiety does not compromise their quality of life. Through distress tolerance skills, in particular, patients learn many in-the-moment techniques for dealing with stress, and other DBT skills allow patients to find a measured approach to accept and deal with the causes of their stress.

Depression treatment myths

Myth 1: Depression only happens when something bad happens in your life, such as a breakup or the death of a loved one.
BUSTED: Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health diagnoses in the United States in adults ages 18 and older. Often, there is no one event that directly leads to depression, which can contribute to the frustration of the diagnosis. Depression is more than the typical grief response someone has in response to a breakup or the death of a loved one — grief is a “normal” reaction for such circumstances. While people who are genetically predisposed to depression can be at risk for developing depression following a stressful life event, their grief response does not always qualify for a diagnosis or depression treatment.

Myth 2: Antidepressants will change your personality, so you shouldn’t seek out depression treatment.
BUSTED: This is a widespread myth that often serves as a barrier to people receiving the depression treatment they need. First, medications are not always recommended when a patient is receiving quality intensive inpatient treatment. Second, studies reveal that there are no links between antidepressants and personality alterations. Antidepressants target chemical imbalances in the brain that contribute to the symptoms of depression and have not been scientifically proven to alter personality traits.

It’s important to seek out trusted information when evaluating treatment options for mood and personality disorders such as BPD, anxiety and depression. By understanding the truth about these disorders and the available treatments, patients and their loved ones can discover the most effective and sustainable solutions to support a mood disorder diagnosis.

Editor's note: This article was first published on the THIRA Health website.

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