It causes people to isolate themselves. It impairs their ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. And it impacts nearly 16.2 million American adults. Could your loved one be one of the many individuals affected by depression?
Signs of depression are often difficult to spot and the stigma that continues to surround mental health makes it difficult for many to seek out help. If you notice changes in your loved one’s behavior, do not ignore them as they could be symptoms of a severe underlying problem.
Signs of Depression
- They frequently seem unhappy or detached from their surroundings.
- They have stopped participating in activities they used to enjoy.
- Their eating and sleeping patterns have changed.
- They have started using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress.
- They express feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
- They frequently say that they feel tired or sick.
- They experience headaches, digestive issues, or chronic pain.
- They admit to having suicidal thoughts.
If your loved one exhibits any of these behaviors, you should consider having a discussion with them to better understand their thoughts and feelings. Depression is a debilitating mental health condition, but luckily, it can be managed. Because having a strong support system is the foundation for recovery, being an active participant in your loved one’s journey toward healing can improve their chances of living a healthy, happy, and productive life.
How You Can Help
It’s great that you are eager to support your loved one during this bleak time. Remember that mental health — and specifically conditions like anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and depression — is a delicate issue that must be handled with sensitivity and understanding. Here is what you should and should not do to help a family member or friend struggling with depression.
Be attentive. Often, people grappling with depression just want to be around someone who cares enough to listen. Depression can cause people to feel isolated from their family, their friends, and their environment. Simply being present when you notice your loved one is in low spirits affirms that they are supported and loved. Listen carefully when they explain how their mental state is affecting them.
Ask questions. Depression can be overwhelming and confusing to navigate for both the person suffering from it and those around them. Some days your loved one might look and feel fine, while other days might take an emotional toll on them. At times, they might seem upset without being provoked by anything in particular. Try to understand their thought process by posing questions. Check in with them by asking them how they’re feeling or if they want to talk about what’s bothering them. You can also pose the question “How would you like me to support you?” upfront. Not only do these questions let them know that you are approaching them from a place of concern but they might also prompt them to consider points about themselves that they previously had not, allowing them to grow and potentially heal.
Do your research. Depression is complex, and you may understandably feel fearful and anxious about everything you do not understand. Learning more about depression by looking up studies or expert perspectives will allow you to ask your loved one the most pertinent questions about their condition, enabling you to become a better resource and guide for them.
Don’t reprimand them or make demands. When it comes to mental illness, “tough love” is not a viable solution. You might feel tempted to give your loved one a “wake-up call” in an effort to help them, but remember that like addiction, depression is a disease that they have limited control over. Criticisms and threats will only make them more upset and more likely to detach themselves from others.
Don’t dismiss their condition. Nothing is more destructive than minimizing their concerns. NEVER tell them their worries are “all in their head” or that there are other people who “have it worse.” Depression is taking a toll on them, and pretending it is not serious or real will not help the situation. Comments like these will only make them feel frustrated or defensive and will not lead to a productive discussion. Similarly, do not try to talk over them when they are venting, or they likely will not choose to confide in you again because they might assume you do not value their feelings.
Give them hope. While you shouldn’t diminish your loved one’s feelings, assure them that their frustrations and sadness will pass and that there are happier times waiting for them. To remind them of this, share funny (or corny) jokes, or make plans to do something lighthearted with them. Hope is crucial for those who might be thinking that their life is empty and can help people push through obstacles to get to better days.
Help them establish a self-care regimen. There is no miracle cure for depression, but your loved one can benefit from implementing wellness practices into a regular routine. Encourage them to try something new, or even participate in activities with them. Meditation, yoga, and journaling can each increase your loved one’s sense of self-worth and give them a mental health boost. You and your loved one can also find comfort and companionship by attending support groups — such as those offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness — and hearing about others’ experiences with mental illness.
Have patience. Depression can be a recurring illness, and your loved one will likely experience multiple depressive episodes. It can be exhausting to watch someone you love suffer, but remember that people living with depression do not choose to do so. If you are feeling especially stressed about your loved one’s condition, pause, breathe, and occupy yourself with something else until you regain your composure. Your patience will reinforce to your loved one that they are not a burden and that you will not stop supporting them.
Encourage them to seek professional help. For many, such as for those experiencing suicidal ideation, professional assistance is crucial. There are several options available depending on your loved one’s needs including online counseling and in person therapy. Speaking to a professional not only provides them with expert advice but increases their safety and enables them access to medication if deemed necessary.
Note: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, confidential, 24/7 support and can be reached by calling 1 800 273 8255.
Support Versus Codependency
Remember that while it is important to lend a hand when someone you love is struggling, you should make sure the relationship remains supportive, not codependent. You can attempt to make your loved one feel better, but they also need to be willing to help themselves. Do not try to control them and do not lose sight of your own needs in an effort to lift their spirits. Neglecting your own mental health could cause you to feel excessively stressed and even resentful toward the person you are trying to help. You will not do your loved one any favors by smothering them either, as they might become irritated by your overbearing approach or start to rely on you excessively, losing their drive or their ability to take care of themselves. Be a source of comfort without sacrificing your own happiness.