Depression is a painful disorder. If you’ve never experienced it, count yourself blessed. But perhaps you haven’t experienced depression yourself, but you have a loved one who suffers with it.
Most loved ones who have never experienced depression themselves, do not know how to how to help a depressed loved one. Do you know how to help? In this case, ignorance is anything but bliss. You might find this blog post helpful: How to Help a Depressed Loved One
Depression is much like cancer: you can’t see it yet it is very real and extremely painful; if you haven’t endured it, you don’t know what it feels like, and it not only effects the one going through it, but it also effects those who love the suffering.
Following are ten important things to know if you have a depressed loved one:
1. Depression is a medical condition – part of the reason that depression and other mental illnesses still carry a stigma is because of the misperception that depression is a choice. But I would encourage you to think of it the same way you think of other medical conditions such as allergies or epilepsy. No one chooses to suffer from depression any more than anyone would choose to have allergies or epilepsy.
2. Often, the depressed individual doesn’t know they are depressed – I’ve spent my entire career as a psychologist, helping people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and a myriad of other mental health disorders. Yet when I experienced post-partum depression, I didn’t realize that’s what it was. Part of the reason that the individual suffering from depression doesn’t realize they are suffering from depression is because it usually has a very slow, insidious onset. Additionally, many of the symptoms of depression (e.g. insomnia, hypersomnia, changes in appetite and weight), when taken in isolation can be attributed to other factors.
3. True depression, which is more than just a case of the blues, lasts weeks or months, and without appropriate treatment, sometimes years. I do not share this with you to discourage you, but so that you can have more appropriate expectations. Sometimes it can take weeks or months for a depressed individual to realize something is wrong, and frequently longer before they will seek help. This can prolong the illness.
4. Depression doesn’t present the same way for everyone. Part of what makes it difficult for the depressed individual or their family members to recognize the depression for what it is, is that not everyone with depression presents the same way. Some will cry much of the day, not eat, have little energy, and sleep all day. Others will not appear down but will appear irritable or agitated.
5. Depression often results from other medical conditions. Many medical conditions can often result in, or have a high co-occurrence rate with depression. For example, individuals with thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, and sleep disorders also frequently suffer from depression. Also, individuals who have suffered heart disease, stroke, head injury, and cancer often experience depression.
6. It’s important to get your loved one to a doctor if you think they may be depressed. Often, the depressed individual feels ashamed or guilty, and may be unlikely to seek help for themselves. But delaying a diagnosis also means delaying potentially life-saving treatment. Your loved one may not thank you in the moment, but they will thank you when they start feeling better.
7. Many depressed individuals still lead functional lives. Depression doesn’t always mean that the individual cries 24 hours a day and can’t get out of bed. Many who suffer still get up and go to work, but may have less energy and be less positive or more irritable in their demeanor.
8. When medication is used, it should be discontinued only under a doctor’s care. Often, when an individual with depression is helped by medication, they often desire to stop taking their medication because they are feeling better. Frequently, the reason they are feeling better is because the medication is doing what it was designed to do.
9. You cannot reliably predict when an individual with depression might attempt suicide. Many depressed individuals will discuss their thoughts of suicide if you ask, while others will not. Many who attempt suicide will never mention it to anyone beforehand. They often don’t want to be a burden on their loved ones. Many fear that by asking a loved one if they have or are considering suicide, will “put the idea in their head.” Believe me, you won’t be putting the idea in their mind, and being willing to discuss such a heavy topic may provide the very help they need.
10. Your depressed loved one needs to know they are still loved, valued, accepted, and not alone. While you may not be able to relate to depression, your depressed loved one needs to know that your opinion of him or her has not changed as a result of their condition. Above all, communicate your love and acceptance. Convey that there is hope!
Depression is a painful, lonely disorder. Just like you don’t have to be personally acquainted to help someone who is going through cancer, you don’t have to be personally acquainted to help someone struggling with depression.
Will you be a lifeline for someone today?
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)