If a close friend or family member is struggling with depression (or other mental illness), it can feel quite frustrating and overwhelming as you try to help them. You might even feel a little helpless. This can especially be the case when you suspect that they are suffering but they aren’t ready to admit it to themselves. With a mental illness like depression, there is a big difference between feeling low and ‘down in the dumps,’ and being depressed.
When someone is feeling down, then it can just be a temporary setback because of something sad, stressful, or upsetting that happened to them. Feeling down or low isn’t something that interferes with your everyday life and isn’t something that stops you from getting out of bed or functioning normally. It can just be something that lasts on and off for a couple of weeks or a couple of days and then it passes.
In contrast to that, depression has symptoms of being completely withdrawn from your friends and family, and means that you often lose interest in things that you normally would enjoy. These feelings and symptoms can last for a long time in someone who is clinically depressed.
Someone with depression will have a very different mindset from someone who simply feels down. Someone who feels down will likely know that things will get better, because it’s just a temporary feeling. Someone with major depressive disorder can feel completely at a loss and feel that the situation is hopeless and won’t change.
Signs of depression to look out for in a loved one
There are a range of signs and symptoms to look out for in an individual, which can help you to be able to identify what the problem is and then help you to get help for them. These are:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, and empty, and vocalizing that to others
- Feelings of irritability, anger, and frustration, even over the smallest of things
- Sleeping for much longer than normal, or equally, suffering with insomnia and finding it hard to sleep
- Changes in how hungry they feel, either wanting to eat much more and gaining weight in a short amount of time, or losing weight and not eating very much at all compared to normal
- Feeling restless, agitated, or full of anxiety
- Some unexplained problems with their health, such as headaches or back pain
- Problems with remembering things, concentrating, and finding it hard to make any kind of decisions.
- Not always, but depression can be related to certain addictions, such as drugs or alcohol.
- They express that they feel worthless to you or focus on things in the past that they have failed at.
- Talking about being suicidal or mentioning death and wanting to die.
If your friend or family member is disclosing this kind of information to you, or they are showing any of these symptoms, then it may be a big sign that something is wrong. The next step for you is knowing the right way to respond and what to do next, as it can play an important role. So, here are some of the things you can do that can help them.
Address your concerns with them
If you have noticed signs of depression in them, then in a calm and non-judgmental way, address your concerns with them. This can help them to understand your concern for them, and provide a way to talk about how they are feeling. One of the most important things you can do for them at this stage is to listen to them. Start by getting them talking, talk about what you may have noticed in them, and that you are concerned. Just state facts, rather than being critical. Then in a neutral way, keep the conversation going. Make sure that you don’t dominate the conversation so that they have time to respond to you.
Approach getting treatment to help them
If they are suffering with depression then they may not think about getting any help, because they are in a mindset that they don’t deserve help or that they want to die. There is also a certain stigma around mental illness still, which can feel shameful for some people to admit that anything is wrong. They may just lack motivation to get help because they can barely get out of bed on most days.
By stepping in and taking some steps to help, you can make a difference. You could get them the first appointment with a doctor or into an alcoholism treatment program, if they are suffering with an addiction alongside the depression. You can be there to remind them of appointments and go along with them if they feel like they need some moral support.
If they are reluctant to see a health professional such as a psychiatrist, then see if they will go to a doctor that they already know, such as their primary care physician.
Support them in their daily life
When starting out with treatment, part of what they may need help with is the small and day-to-day things. This could be going with them to an appointment or helping with everyday tasks such as getting groceries or cooking a healthy meal. Cleaning the house and doing laundry can also take a back seat when someone is depressed, so stepping in to help can be vital. Encourage them to get up and move, even just for a little walk around the block. By getting into more of a routine again, it can make a big difference to how they feel, and can help to reduce any feelings of anxiety that they might also have.
Try not to encourage them to do too much, though. Too many activities or too much socializing, especially in the early days, can make things worse and mentally exhaust them. It can give them additional stress that they don’t need as they try to recover and deal with their depression.
Check if their treatment is working
With all that you are doing for them, you will want to know that what you are doing is helping. It can be obvious if things are getting better or worse just by how they are behaving. For someone with depression, they can start to look happier and make more eye contact with you. There are some other clear indicators that they are feeling better and that treatment is working, which can include:
- Smiling more and getting more joy out of life and the things that they used to enjoy
- More relaxed facial features
- A much calmer manner, feeling less angry and less anxious
- Willing and able to have more interaction with people rather than wanting to be alone
- Eating better, getting into a better daily routine, and sleeping better
Helping a loved one with depression is a long road, and it won’t be a quick fix. But with your love and care, and being persistent in helping them, it can make a significant difference in their life.