How to Help a Loved One with Depression
First, let's educate ourselves
Are you or a loved one feeling sad or hopeless for longer than two weeks or is it affecting your daily life? This can be a sign of a depression disorder. Depression disorders are the most commonly reported mental health conditions in America. In fact, approximately 16 million people in the United States have suffered with this debilitating disease at one point of their lives. What makes this disorder such a widespread disorder is that there are several kinds of depression disorders. For example:
Major depressive disorder, which is a severe disorder that consists of overwhelming sadness, losing interest in activities you usually enjoy, sleep disturbances, and changes in eating habits.
Chronic depressive disorder is the same as major depressive disorder but it lasts longer than two years.
Seasonal affective disorder only affects the person during certain times of the year, usually the winter months.
Bipolar disorder consists of periods of highs and lows where a person will go for several days or weeks being hyperactive, reckless, and not sleeping to periods of extreme depression.
Postpartum depression affects women who have recently given birth or was pregnant and either lost the baby or had an abortion.
The Physical Side of Depression
People with depression are affected by more than just psychological issues. Those with depression are also more susceptible to physical disorders such as heart disease. In fact, according to the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), individuals who suffer with depressive disorders are four times as probable to experience a cardiac episode than people who have never had depression. Along the same lines, people with serious or chronic illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s disorder, and diabetes are more susceptible to depressive disorders. In fact, 25% of cancer patients (National Institute of Mental Health, 2002) & 1 in 3 heart attack survivors experience depression (National Institute of Mental Health, 2002).
In addition, women are twice as likely to have depression than men. This may be related to certain hormonal changes that affect women during their menstrual cycle or menopausal transition, but studies concerning this are still ongoing.
Larger impacts of Depression on Public Health & Economy
Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44 and ranks among the top three workpalce issues, following only family crisis and stress (World Health Organization, 2004). Depression’s annual toll on U.S. businesses amounts to about $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs. Depression accounts for close to $12 billion in lost workdays each year. Additionally, more than $11 billion in other costs accrue from decreased productivity due to symptoms that sap energy, affect work habits, cause problems with concentration, memory, and decision-making. (The Wall Street Journal, 2001, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999). It affects the health of our loved ones, friends, and beyond into that of our nation. It is a public health crisis.
Signs of Depression
So, how do you know whether someone you love has depression? That is not as easy as you may think. Many people who have depressive disorder are good at hiding it, especially if they have had it for a while. However, some of the most common symptoms are:
Being constantly sad, hopeless, or feeling lost
Making negative remarks often
Feeling guilty or worthless
Sleeping more or less than usual
Eating more or less than usual
Weight gain or loss
Talking or moving more slow than usual
Trouble concentrating and making decisions
Restlessness or agitation
Chronic headaches, cramps, feeling ill, or digestive issues
Talking about death or suicide
If you know someone who has any signs of depression, talk to someone and see how you can help. Better yet, you can get them to talk to someone. Getting help is easier now and confidential with online therapy. Unlike traditional face-to-face therapy, online therapy is much simpler and faster to get. There is no need to make an appointment and you do not have to leave the house or arrange transportation. A depression chat room is also a great idea for those with depression to talk to others who are suffering from the same issues. This is not only convenient but it is free as well. There is support when and where you need it.
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, please also make sure that your or their priamry care physician is aware. Physical and mental health are intertwined, and we should shift the paradigm internally & externally within society to approach these illnesses in this holistic way. If your insurance doesn't cover mental health services such as therapy or psychiatry or you do not have insurance or do not feel comfortable about seeking help at a facility, Better Help can be an option for you.
Now, here are gentle ways you can support a loved one with depression
First, determine if they do need your help according to the signs listed above. It can be scary when a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide. It's also difficult to know how a suicidal crisis feels and how to act. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time for help if a friend is struggling.
Talk directly & matter-of-factly yet kindly about suicide.
Willingly listen and allow expressions of a spectrum of feelings. Acknowledge that you accept the validity of these feelings.
Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
Take action. Remove obvious means, like weapons or pills, if they express, or have expressed in the past, suicidal thoughts or behaviours.
Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention, such as National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Be patient; it takes time & courage to acknowledge, get help, and find the right treatment.
Be judgemental. Don’t debate on the philosophy or ethics of suicide—this is not a class and they're not your student, they're your loved one.
Make judgement-values on whether feelings are good or bad.
Lecture on the value of life or compare their situation to that of those who are "worse off."
Dare them to do it.
Be sworn to secrecy. Instead, ask them to seek support or ask to support them by seeking it for them.
Don’t act shocked. Instead, acknowledge that the difficulty in speaking about these feelings and you value their ability to open up about them.
This is an article exclusively produced for The Thirlby with our friends at Better Help, the world's largest e-counseling platform. We are proud to partner with an organisation that is making professional counseling accessible, affordable, and convenient—so anyone who struggles with life’s challenges can get help, anytime, anywhere.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (2018). NIMH on Depression Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml.
Marsh, W K, et al. “Lifelong Estradiol Exposure and Risk of Depressive Symptoms during the Transition to Menopause and Postmenopause.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28719421.
About the Author
Almila Kakinc-Dodd is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief of The Thirlby. She is also the author of the book The Thirlby: A Field Guide to a Vibrant Mind, Body, & Soul. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Nursing as a Dean’s Scholar at Johns Hopkins University. Her background is in Anthropology & Literature, which she has further enriched through her Integrative Health Practitioner training at Duke University. She lives in the Washington, D.C. Metro Area, where she regularly contributes to various publications. She is a member of Democratic Socialists of America and urges others to join the movement.