Depression: how can you help someone who is experiencing it?
Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with almost 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis; also, between 8-12% of the population experience depression in any year, according to The Office for National Statistics.
How can we support a partner or a relative who is feeling low and hopeless? What kind of advice can we give to a friend who struggles to leave the house and is often in tears?
These are the things you can do to help someone who is experiencing depression.
Learn what depression really is. We all feel down from time to time, but people who suffer from depression feel persistently sad for weeks or even months. Some people still think that depression is a matter of willpower; actually, it is a real mental health issue, with real symptoms, that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour and feelings.
Symptoms range from lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things people used to enjoy and feeling very tearful. There can be physical symptoms too, such as feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and complaining of various aches and pains.
Take their suffering seriously. Try not to encourage your loved one to “pull themselves together” or to “use their willpower to react”. This is just something that someone who is experiencing depression is unable to do: they can’t react as others expect them to and the risk is that they will feel guilty about it.
Encourage them to see a professional. It can be difficult to convince someone who suffers from depression to see a specialist; in fact, they may not feel ill, or, on the other hand, they may be sure to be incurable (“nothing can be done for me”). Despite this, you should persuade them to see a psychiatrist - medications may be needed - and a therapist can help them explore their issue, develop awareness and start a path of healing and self-development.
Support them in the day-to-day life as well as in the compliance to therapy and medications. The lifestyle of people who suffer from depression changes dramatically: they are now unkempt, they spend most of the day in bed, avoiding social and working meetings. Therefore you should help them carry out normal daily activities such as washing, changing clothes, doing some activities, eating properly. After the most acute phase, you should encourage them to come out from the isolation and resume the relationships with the most closed and trusted friends. You should also make sure they take medications as prescribed and that they are committed to therapy.
Listen without judging. Understanding, listening and empathetic involvement to their deep suffering are a great deal of help to those who, inside, can only feel loneliness and sadness. Let them speak about what they feel or think, even if this is boring and repetitive; they will take comfort from your listening.
Postpone important decisions. Those who suffer from depression may make thoughtless decisions on the base of strong negative feelings. You should suggest they postpone such decisions, whether it concerns relationships, work, investments or relocations. You will protect them from devastating consequences.
Don’t underestimate the suicidal risk. If you hear any reference to suicide you should speak with the psychiatric or the therapist, who will then evaluate the severity of the risk.
Don’t forget about yourself. It is quite emotionally challenging to help someone with depression. You should keep you and your family’s social life regular, even if it becomes less busy. You may also feel the need to share your experience, your feelings, your frustration; you could then benefit from attending self-help groups for relatives of people with depression, or from speaking with a therapist, if your level of stress is particularly high.