Depression is a huge problem in our country, with over 5 crore of Indians suffering from it according to the WHO. Know someone going through this? Read on to discover how you can help them through it.
Depression is no joke–around 10% of India’s population suffers from it. Research shows that one in 5 women and one in 10 men suffer from this mood disorder–and the results are relevant to our country as well. That being said, it may be likely that you will have a friend who may experience depression at some point in her life.
Helping your friend
Helping a friend or loved one with depression can be challenging. For many people with depression, the symptoms are severe enough to cause problems with day-to-day activities (e.g., attending school or getting to work each day), but others might feel miserable or overwhelmed without knowing why. If someone in your life has depression, whether or not that person has a diagnosis, you might feel at a loss for how to best support that person.
“When someone is going through a storm, your actions to help them is more powerful than a million empty words”
The most important step toward helping a loved one with depression is to understand the symptoms. The course of major depressive disorder is variable, and symptoms vary from person to person. Familiarizing yourself with the possible symptoms will help you better understand what your loved one is experiencing
How do you help her/him?
First, learn to recognize the symptoms of depression
Some clues are really subtle, such as the change in behavior over a period of time. If someone you know loves to read and gradually is unable to get through even a page, she may be suffering from depression. A change in sleeping habits and appetite are also red flags that could indicate depression.
The American National Institute of Mental Health lists the following symptoms as indicative of depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, pessimism, and worthlessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Decreased energy and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering
- Change in appetite or weight
- Difficulty falling asleep or oversleeping
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lasting cramps, headaches, and digestive problems
People with depression may have one or more of these symptoms for at least two weeks. However, Regular sadness can also morph into depression.
Next, if you suspect that your friend is indeed suffering from depression, prepare yourself to
be supportive and reach out to her
- Remember that you cannot “make it right.” Your role in your friend’s recovery will mainly be that of a patient listener.
- Your friend may be constantly irritable and snap at you every time she opens her mouth. Do not take it personally. Tell yourself that her illness is making her behave in this way.
People with depression might not acknowledge that they’re struggling. Yet, Lack of awareness about symptoms of depression can cause people to consider their feelings normal or dismiss them as a time-limited struggle. The stigma of seeking treatment for depression can also cause people to attempt to overcome treatment independently.
What is it all about?
Depression seldom gets better without treatment, and it can actually worsen over time. Research shows that both antidepressant medications and cognitive therapy are effective in alleviating symptoms. Other treatments include interpersonal therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and neurofeedback.
It can be difficult to encourage treatment, particularly if the person doesn’t acknowledge the depression. It helps to consider some talking points:
- Share what you’ve noticed and talk about why you’re concerned.
- Suggest a physical with a general practitioner as a first step to rule out any other medical issues that might cause the symptoms
- Explain what you’ve learned about the symptoms of depression and how depression can negatively impact people
- Offer to accompany your loved one for the physical and to any other appointments
- Help your loved one prepare a list of questions to ask the doctor or psychotherapist
Practice compassionate listening
If your loved one tends to internalize emotions, he or she might feel overwhelmed when you share your concerns about possible symptoms of depression. The best thing you can do in the moment is use compassionate listening. Your loved one’s depression is not for you to fix, but being present and listening to your loved one talk can help that person feel heard and understood.
Use these phrases:
- I am here for you
- You’re not alone in this
- I might not understand exactly how you feel right now, but I want to help you
- Tell me what I can do to help
“Sometimes we need someone to simply be there. Not to fix anything or to do anything in particular, but to just let us feel that we are cared for and supported”
Avoid using these kinds of phrases:
- This is just a phase; it will pass
- Everyone feels this way sometimes
- Why can’t you see the positive?
- Snap out of it
- The more you think about it, the worse you will feel
- Think about all the great things in your life!
More often than not, sitting in silence and use nonverbal cues to communicate support is more helpful than trying to find the perfect words.
Depression can make everyday tasks, like driving and grocery shopping, feel impossible. Ask your loved one how you can help in small ways:
- Help schedule appointments
- Provide a ride to and from appointments
- Grocery shop and do other tasks with your friend
- Offer to take walks together a few times a week
- Ask if you can help around the house
- Offer to go watch movies or get out of the house together
The risk of suicide exists at all times during major depressive episodes. The most consistent risk factor is a past history of suicide attempts, but most completed suicides are not preceded by unsuccessful attempts. Living alone, being male, and having prominent feelings of hopelessness also increase the risk of suicide.
If you believe your loved one is at risk of suicide, do not leave that person alone. Dial 9-1-1 and stay with your loved one.
Take care of yourself
Caring for a loved one with depression can be complicated and overwhelming. Be sure to attend to your own personal needs, create appropriate boundaries, and seek help from a therapist or support group.
Begin by urging your friend to seek medical / Professional help
She may be resistant to the idea at first, especially in a country like ours, where discussions around mental disorders are taboo and people behave as if they do not exist. A visit to the family doctor may be the best option since she will be comfortable with the examination. If the doctor diagnoses your friend with depression, you can get a recommendation for a good psychiatrist. He/She should visit an psychologist / counsellor who can offer great help.
Help your friend with small, everyday tasks
You’d be surprised to know how mundane activities like making an appointment with the doctor is so difficult for someone suffering from depression. Help her make and keep her appointments, fill in her prescriptions (if any), and keep tabs on her progress.
Encourage her to go out of the house
Your friend will be really low on energy and will grumble and make excuses when you try to suggest outdoor activities. Be firm and persistent while also being gentle. The simplest activity that will do her good is a walk around the neighbourhood.
Encourage a healthy lifestyle
Eating healthy foods, exercising, sleeping well–all these are healthy habits that will help your friend recover from her disorder. As much as possible, participate in these habits with her, thus encouraging her to keep doing them.
Your friend is not going to get well overnight, despite your best efforts. Often times, you may find that nothing you do is helping much. Do not feel defeated. Instead, be patient and remain persistent. Recovery takes time and some part of it also depends on the will power of your friend.
The severity of depression varies from person to person but almost everyone benefits from treatment, either medication or psychotherapy or a combination of both. Your support and patience will go a long way to speed up your friend’s recovery. She needs to feel that she is loved and needed.
Don’t hesitate to talk it out with your friend, if you feel the need to do so. Just don’t diminish the seriousness of her disorder. Instead, keep telling her how you are always by her side and are available to help whenever she needs it.