You might not have had a friend suffering from depression, or a loved one, but you might have to face this tough situation. Depression affects almost 7% of the U.S. population – that’s close to 15 million, just in one country. Worldwide, 5% of the population suffers from depression at a certain point in life.
Mental health has finally become a serious thing. Countries such as New Zealand and the United States offer employees mental health leave as a separated option apart from the sick day leave. Other countries are fighting for this as well. While I don’t believe there should be a special day off for this – since depression is a disease on its own, so you are sick – I think it’s a big step forward acknowledging the existence and effects of depression.
I personally didn’t suffer from depression, I just have a few horrible weeks when I could really find any reason to wake up and get out of the bed. But my Mum suffered from depression. I was not the king of “I want to kill myself” kind of depression. She had constant panic attack out of the blue, she couldn’t sleep or eat and had no energy. Luckily we managed to figure it out and with treatment, everything was fine.
I decided to write about this because I know how difficult it is to watch a loved one fade away. You feel hopeless and frustrated because you don’t know what to do. When I felt so lost and scared, I went to a therapist asking her how and what should I do to help my Mum in case she goes through it again. The tips sound quite simple but it’s difficult to put them into practice.
1. Document yourself
Sometimes depression can be difficult to diagnose. In my Mum’s case, she went to lost of doctors, did a lost of test and everyone told her she was healthy and fine, but she did not feel fine.
So don’t rush to throw in someone’s face that they are depressive. People are afraid to admit or accept they might supper from depression. So observe their behaviour and learn more about depression.
You could just read some credible sources of the Internet like NGOs that fight to raise mental health awareness, private practices websites, government’s sources and so on.
Here are some general things you should know about depression:
- there are different types of depressions. Knowing there are different types might help you identify easily if it might be depression or not. The major types of depressions are:
- seasonal depression
- post-partum depression
- bipolar disorder
- psychotic depressions (which is the one mostly ‘marketed’ as ‘crazy’)
- women are more prone to develop depression. While men are not depression-proof, women apparently are more prone to develop depression – probably because of post-partum.
- it’s related to genetics. My therapist highlighted that because my Mum had a depressive episode, I have higher chances of developing it myself at a certain point in life.
- it mostly happens around 30 or in the early 20s. Most people suffer from depression when they enter adulthood, but lots of women suffer from it in their early 30s.
Learn the symptoms
Symptoms can be easily confused with other diseases. So learn which they are and how to identify them.
Usually, people who suffer from depression have extreme mood swings. They are either lethargic, not eating, not sleeping and so on, or they are super active and unusually happy. Anyway, a specialist is the only one who can put a diagnosis.
2. Help them track their mood
Start keeping a journal together.
It does not have to be a classic journal. I personally think The 5 Minute Journal is perfect. You write in the morning and in the evening 3 things you are grateful for and 3 things you will do better tomorrow.
Sharing what you wrote for the day will keep them going and you can actually see if their mood improves or not.
3. Don’t let them give up on their hobbies
Hobbies make us happy. So if you notice your friend is giving up his/her hobbies without any good reason, it might be a sign something is going on. Also, routines are also important here. If you notice your friend is dropping out on their routines, try to see what happened.
Try to keep them on track and join them. If they like biking, invite them to a ride and insist to come with you and share some of their knowledge with you. We are usually glad to share from our experience with others interested in our hobbies.
This point was one of the most important things the therapist highlighted.
4. Put yourself in their shoes
Opening up about your feelings – especially bad ones – is never easy. Talking about feelings or symptoms you don’t understand is difficult.
So try to share first. Empathise and tell them you felt like you had no good reason to wake up a few days in a row and it felt horrible. They might open up.
5. Encourage them to get help
People are scared to admit they suffer from depression or that they see a therapist because they fear they will be labelled as crazy.
Don’t just throw in their face “You have to see a doctor!” because it will only make it worst. Be kind and make them understand it’s for their best. Here are some things you can try to say:
- “Do you remember when I told you about my Mum? I think you have similar symptoms, have you considered to seek a specialist’s advice?”
- “I went to a few therapy sessions when I felt really bad some time ago and it helped me a lot. She told me X and Y and it really helped me a lot.”
- “Look… I am starting to worry that this is something more serious. I am here for you no matter what, but I am not a specialist. Let’s go together to a specialist, just to be safe.”
Don’t blame them or force them to go to the doctor. If they refuse at the beginning, give them some space, and come back with the proposal packed differently.
The main thing you have to remember is that it is difficult to accept depression – that you can’t control the way you feel. Most people don’t talk about it because they think it’s just a “phase” and they should be able to control the way they feel.
The best thing you can do for them is to document yourself and try to silently help them.
I really do hope you won’t have to face depression or someone close to you will have to go through it.
Did you ever have to deal with a loved one going through depression? How was it for you?