Depression is a mental illness, but it doesn’t just affect a person’s mind. It affects their body, their work, and their relationships with family members and friends. If you are close to a person suffering from depression, you probably know that something’s wrong but aren’t sure what to do about it. Depression is complicated to diagnose and treat, so only a qualified health care provider can do that. But there are some common symptoms that you can look for. If someone you know is experiencing five or more of the following signs, for more than 2 weeks, then that person could be suffering from depression:
If someone you know has confided in you that they may be depressed, or if you have a strong suspicion that they may be, here are some ways you can help.
- Persistently dull, grey or empty mood
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, or pessimism
- Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities or hobbies
- Sleep disturbances or oversleeping
- Feeling tired all the time, even if getting adequate sleep
- Unexplained appetite and/or weight fluctuations
- Thoughts or talk of self-injury, suicide or death
- Self-injury or suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability, nervousness, and edginess
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
- Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, backaches, and neck tension
After your loved one has taken the steps to begin treatment, there is still a long road ahead. There are many things you can do to support his or her journey to recovery.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about depression the better you’ll be able to help someone who has it. But don’t play doctor. There are a host of other illnesses that could masquerade as depressive symptoms. There are also many types of depression, and only a qualified professional can diagnose and treat it. Nothing you can say will make depression go away, but you may be able to convince a friend or family member to get help.
- Educate her. Tell her what you’ve learned and why you think she should pursue diagnosis and, if necessary, treatment. Explain that depression is not her fault, that it doesn’t just go away, and that treatment is often highly effective.
- Encourage him to get help. Suggest and encourage that he gets help, but don’t force it. Forcing the issue may cause him to either resist completely, or to go just so that you to stop pressuring him (which won't be very helpful). The only exception to this rule is if you think this person is in danger of hurting himself or someone else. Depression is one of the leading causes of suicide. Any and all signs of suicide should be taken extremely seriously and acted upon immediately.
- Provide practical support. Offer her help by finding a therapist, driving her to therapy, babysitting while she's there, or providing some financial support if she can't afford treatment. Enable her to get help, but don’t enable her depression (by taking over her responsibilities while she's not actively seeking treatment).
- Offer moral support. Be a listening ear when he needs to talk, calling and checking up on him regularly. Just getting it off of his chest is part of the recovery process. People suffering from depression often try to isolate themselves, causing them to sink further into their disease, but being involved and concerned can prevent that.
- Exercise with her. Exercise can often help improve depression symptoms, although it is not a substitute for treatment.
- Be a good example. Remember to take care of yourself by eating right, exercising, handling stress, and trying to live a balanced life. This is always important—especially if the depressed person in your life is your spouse or significant other. Try not to let his illness make you sick too.
Depression treatment has a high success rate, especially if research-backed protocols are followed. Assure your friend or loved one that she certainly is not hopeless, and a better day is probably right around the corner if she gets some help. And remember that once that day is here, the relationship that the two of you share will be better than ever.
- Remember that you cannot cure his depression, and there is no quick fix. All you can do is support him in this very personal process. Take care of yourself, and keep a positive attitude.
- Expect ups and downs. Recovery can be a rollercoaster: when things are good, enjoy them, but keep in mind that recovery may not be complete yet; when things are bad, look forward to better days, and don’t be critical, as this only slows down the recovery process.
- Unless you’ve gone though it, don’t tell her that you “understand.” Opt for sincerity instead, making statements like, “I’ve never been through this myself, but I can only imagine that this must be an extremely difficult thing to go through”.
- Keep in mind that, although you may be suffering indirectly because this person's depression is affecting you, it is not your affliction. Be grateful for this fact, and remind yourself not to take the things that he says or does personally.
- Brace for a change. Depression may have cloaked the true self of your loved one for so long that you may not feel like you know him again until therapy and/or medication takes effect.