Depression is a serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and act. It is one of the most common mental illnesses in the US. In 2020, twenty-one million adults had at least one depressive episode. This makes up just over eight percent of US adults.
If you have a depressed friend or family member it can be difficult to understand what they are going through or know how to help them. We will discuss what depression is and what signs to look out for. We will also give a few specific suggestions for what you can do and say to support someone with depression.
Depression is a mental health condition that is characterized by a lack of motivation and persistently feeling low. While sometimes feeling low is normal, depression is when these feelings are particularly intense or last for a prolonged time. Depression will usually develop when you are an adult. In children and teenagers, symptoms may present more as irritability than low mood.
Like many other mental health conditions, there is stigma and shame that surround depression. Some believe that it shows a lack of strength and that you should be able to get better without external support. But depression is an illness and should be treated as any other medical illness. Stigma can act as a barrier to seeking support.
Major depression is characterized by symptoms of depression that last most of the time for two or more weeks.
Symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are typically less severe than those of major depression but last for much longer, normally for at least two years.
Depression with symptoms of psychosis is a severe form of depression where you experience symptoms of psychosis such as delusions or hallucinations.
Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by depressive symptoms which typically start in late autumn or early winter and go away in spring and summer.
Perinatal depression is where you experience major depression during or following pregnancy. T there is some evidence that this can also occur after a pregnancy termination (chosen or not).
Although it is not a depressive disorder, people with bipolar also experience depressive episodes. These are followed by manic episodes in which you feel happy, irritable, or up. People with bipolar disorder may be diagnosed with depression and prescribed anti-depressants which can make symptoms worse as they do not manage manic symptoms. If you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing manic episodes as well as symptoms of depression, make sure that you report these to your doctor.
It can be helpful to understand the symptoms of depression because someone who is depressed may not realize they are, or they may try to hide their symptoms from you due to shame or trying to protect you. Symptoms of depression can interfere with how able you are to work, sleep, eat, and study. Experiencing depression is different for everyone. Some people will experience many symptoms while others will experience just a few. Symptoms may include:
The National Institute of Mental Health has helpful information about symptoms of depression and available support.
When speaking with someone with depression you should make sure to come from a judgment-free place. Active listening is a method that can help with building trust and open communication. This method requires listening without distraction or judgment.
You can clarify, paraphrase, and summarize what they have said to make sure you have understood and that they know you understand what they are saying. When asking questions, make sure they are open-ended so that your loved one can speak openly without interruption or being led.
It is particularly important when you are first speaking with someone about depression that you build trust with them and let them express themselves. Active listening allows you to build a basis from which your loved one can feel supported and heard. They are more likely to come to you for support and to listen to your advice if they know that you have good intentions.
Having the support of a family member or of friends can be very helpful. People with depression tend to think that they are a burden on their loved ones so making sure they know that you are there for them is important.
"What can I do to help?" - you might be able to help your loved one by taking them to doctor appointments and sitting with them while they wait. As your family member, partner, or friend recovers try to support them throughout this process. The recovery journey is not linear, they may get better but experience days or weeks where they feel low again. This is normal and you should remain supportive, without losing hope that they will get better. You may get a more honest answer about what you can do to help when they are having a good day.
"Are there any changes we can make to help you feel better?" - collaborative questions could help them feel less alone.
"What helped last time you felt like this?"
"What can we do to get through this together?"
Well-meaning advice or questions could be taken in a different way if you are not careful and do not understand how your loved one is feeling.
"Do you feel better?" - while a loved one's mood will affect how you are feeling you should not make them feel like they need to feel better to make you happy. They are likely already feeling guilty and feel that they are letting you down. Asking them questions like this could lead to them lying to make you feel better.
"What's wrong with you?" - it is not your loved one's fault that they have a mental illness. There are risk factors that increase their chances of developing depression so try not to compare them to others. Some risk factors include genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors, major life changes, trauma, and physical illness.
Do not ask any questions or make statements about how lucky they are to have friends and family who love them, a good job, or a lovely house. Your loved one is not ungrateful; they are in mental and emotional pain which means that they cannot feel the joy of these things as others may.
You should never force someone into getting professional support, but it may help to speak with them about treatment options. Getting help from a mental health professional can help many people with depression. Your loved one may not be in the headspace to look for help so you could help by doing research for them and finding what is available.
Support could be therapy such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapists could help them work out reasons they are feeling as they are and work towards goals. Attending counseling can also be a step to getting prescribed medication if it does not ease symptoms of depression enough. In some cases, children, teenagers, and young adults can experience increased suicidal thoughts or behaviors in the first few weeks of taking antidepressants, or if their dose is changed. Make sure they are receiving medical support and that you are there for them at this time.
Other external options include self-organized support groups. Speaking with people who experience similar things could help your loved one feel less alone in their experience. They may also learn valuable coping mechanisms from peers.
People who have depression may have suicidal thoughts and ideations and even attempted suicide. If a loved one attempts suicide or is at immediate risk of it, call 911 straight away.
Recognizing signs of suicidal thinking could help the situation not come to this point. Signs to look out for include:
If a loved one is displaying these symptoms you can get support by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or texting the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).
Remember that you need to take care of yourself and your own feelings since your own physical and mental health may suffer. You can only look after your loved one if you are taking care of yourself. Some things to think about are exercising, practicing self-care such as mindfulness, eating balanced meals, resting, and spending time with friends. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that exercise and healthy living can reduce stress.
If your loved one is ready to seek treatment, at GIA Miami we are a mental health clinic that specializes in treating depression, anxiety, and addiction. GIA Miami was purpose-built to be an environment of treatment and healing.
We offer state-of-the-art treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and our wellness professionals are on hand to facilitate therapy and counseling whenever needed.
You can find out more by visiting our website or calling us on 833-713-0828.
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