Have you ever been worried about someone because they’ve started acting differently? A friend, a loved-one, a coworker? Maybe even a child or teen you know? You might sense that something’s not right, that they’ve changed, and not in a positive way. They might be more irritable or moody or perhaps just more withdrawn... and its not a fleeting change - it lasts for weeks, maybe even months. This isn’t something to ignore, even if you’re not very close to the person; this could be Major Depressive Disorder, a very severe, debilitating and sometimes lethal illness that requires treatment.
Depending on how close you are to the person in question, you might notice a persistent sadness about them. Requests to hang out, or participate in activities once enjoyed are met with refusals, excuses and weak smiles, perhaps even promises of “next time, definitely,” or “I’ll take a rain check.” The person’s appetite or body weight may change. Their performance at work, and motivation to keep appointments may decline. It may even seem like the person doesn’t care that things they once took pride in are slipping away.
If the sufferer is school-aged, he or she may have difficulty articulating emotions or moods which can lead to acting out or misbehavior instead of
communicating about feelings. School performance may decline, and a once diligent student may begin failing tests or not completing assignments. Sometimes the depressed person’s body lets him or her know that things aren’t okay by increasing numbers and frequency of physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and tiredness. Sometimes a depressed teen will insist that they are fine, but admit to feeling"bored" on a regular basis. Nothing, even previously enjoyable activities or people, seems to ease the boredom. Finally, a school-aged child who was previously engaged with friends and extracurriculars may become socially isolated and drop out of activities.
Other symptoms the depressed person might be experiencing include problems sleeping (too much or too little, waking up early in the a.m. and being unable to fall back asleep). They may feel incredibly tired, and once previously-easy tasks might feel overwhelming and exhausting. It may be hard to get out of bed, or get off the couch. Concentration is often impaired; reading, writing, working or even following conversations is difficult or impossible. On the inside, the person suffering from depression may be experiencing feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness.
In some cases, the depressed person may also experience recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, the most dangerous symptom of depression.
Having a friend or relative who suffers from depression is not an uncommon experience. It is estimated that 20 million Americans suffer from this disorder, which is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. It is as legitimate a medical illness as high blood pressure, diabetes or cancer. It is not a sign of weakness, or something that someone can just ‘get over.’ Telling someone to ‘pull themselves out of it’ only further demoralizes the sufferer.
Thankfully, there is help. If someone you care about is depressed, it affects you too. The most important thing you can do is help your friend or relative get a diagnosis and treatment. You may need to make an appointment and go with him or her to see the doctor. Since individual therapy, group therapy, and treatment with an anti-depressant medication are all viable parts of a potential treatment plan to help your loved one, multiple visits may be necessary, especially in the beginning stages. Seeking an appointment with a primary care doctor with whom your friend already has a relationship may be a good place to start. Talking to a psychiatrist or psychologist in your area, or the counselor at your loved one’s school may also be useful.
Encourage your loved one to stay in treatment, or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs after 6 to 8 weeks.
In the meantime, the following guidelines may be useful in dealing with the depressed person you care about:
Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
Talk to him or her, and more importantly, listen carefully.
Don’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or otherwise minimize or invalidate their experience.
Don’t dismiss feelings (even if they seem illogical or far-fetched), but point out realities and offer hope.
Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one's therapist or doctor. If suicide is imminent, call 911.
Invite your friend out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don't push him or her to take on too much too soon.
Offer to help your family member get to their doctor's appointments or remember to take medications.
Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.