What is Depression?
Depression is a disorder that affects approximately 15 million Americans. It is a mood disorder that can be experienced by men, women, children, and the elderly. It affects a person’s mood, their thoughts, behaviors, and, on occasion, their health.
Depression may be caused by several factors and be acute or long-term.
Long-term depression may similarly be the result of long-term effects of acute depression but transform into longer lasting disorders, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Depression is also becoming more common among soldiers returning from duty and other military personnel.
Symptoms of Depression May Include:
- Sad mood or feeling “in the dumps”
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling numb
However, the often unspoken battle with depression is being the close friend or loved one of someone suffering with depression. While depression has a clear and sometimes devastating impact upon the individual involved, it can also have a severe impact upon those who are close to the individual, such as family and friends. Caring for a loved one who struggles with depression can be a difficult task – having to respond and validate symptoms while managing your own.
Depression For Family And Friends:
One of the most common questions asked is what you can DO to manage your own feelings and to help your loved one, who is struggling with depression.
- BE THERE for your loved one, no matter what. Often depression makes a person feel isolated and alone, and because it can be frustrating for friends and families, they may feel abandoned. This may be as simple as sitting with someone, stopping by to check in, making a phone call, or running an errand.
- Explain depression to children. Children are extremely intuitive and will notice if something is off or not quite right. Explaining to a child that someone is sad helps the child understand his or her own feelings, as well as the feelings of someone who is depressed.
- Engage the depressed person in activities. While it is often difficult to find motivation through depression, making opportunities available and finding ways to encourage a depressed person to engage often helps that person reconnect with joy-bringing activities. Invite the person to hang out, go for a walk, watch a movie, eat a meal, or any other activities you do together.
- Start small. Depression is very much a one-step-at-a-time disorder. Small steps may be easier to attain small goals and activities to build momentum. Inviting someone suffering from depression to a 200-person block party may not be the best way to engage a depressed person. Start small, such as going out to coffee or spending time together.
- Balance diet, exercise, and medication. One of the best stress reducers and boosts in endorphins comes from exercise. Go for a walk, make or have regular meals, and remind the depressed person to regularly take medications.
- TALK to the depressed person. Sometimes the best medicine is a place for the person to vent. They may not be looking for solutions, rather a safe space to worry.
- Normalize feelings. It is okay for someone to feel sad, lonely, angry, depressed...even if that person feels ashamed about how he or she feels.
- Be honest with the person about how they act and how their actions impact you and other people.
- Take time for yourself. Depression can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with, and you need to make sure you take care of yourself as well.
- Let them tell you how they feel. As a family member or friend, you may become frustrated, angry, or irritated at someone who is depressed. You may believe that he or she should snap out of it or get over it. You may feel that your or another's situation is worse. While it is important to recognize these feelings, it is also important to allow the other person a chance to explain his or her perception or experience with depression. He or she may be able to explain what he or she has been feeling and how the depression is affecting those around him or her. Be open-minded and receptive.
Remember depression is a difficult disorder that impacts everyone close to a family member or friend. It is okay to feel sad, lonely, angry, frustrated, or a variety of other feelings. Acknowledge them and find how you can best help your loved one and you.
Resources For Loving Someone Who Is Depressed:
Families for Depression Awareness: helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to get people well and prevent suicides.
Depression is a Family Matter: article from Psychology Today about how depression and mood disorders affect the whole family.
When Someone You Love is Depressed: Article with tips to help when someone you love is depressed.