When you are close to someone who is experiencing depression, it can be confusing as you try to understand what’s happening to them, and how to support them. At times, you may not believe they have depression, but that they need to “snap out of” this mood they’re in. You might feel hurt that they aren’t as upbeat, positive, or engaged with life as you are—and you could feel a sense of animosity towards them because of it.
It’s important to not jump to conclusions when a friend or family member claims to be depressed, or has been clinically diagnosed with depression. Follow this expert advice to learn about this disease and how to support the person you love who suffers from it.
Depression is a common, treatable condition that affects an estimated 1 in 5 adults. However, the disease impacts every person differently. Even if you have experienced depression yourself, your friend or family member may be experiencing it very differently. Don’t assume that you know exactly how they feel or how their symptoms are impacting their life. Connect with a local, trained mental health professional, and visit online resources such as NAMI to better understand what depression is.
Symptoms of depression include sadness, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, physical aches and pains, and changes in sleep, appetite, and energy. Your friend or family member may be experiencing any combination of these symptoms. Pay close attention to any dramatic changes in behavior or mood, as this can be a sign of worsening symptoms.
In some cases, a person’s depression may become so severe that they require hospitalization to stabilize their symptoms. Every state has different laws governing the conditions under which a person can be hospitalized, so check with your state to learn about them now. It is important to know your rights as a friend or family member in advance of a crisis situation.
In some cases, depression can cause individuals to have thoughts of hurting themselves or someone else. Your loved one’s mental health provider should be working with them to create a safety plan or safety contract for times like that. If you are concerned that your loved one is at risk for suicide or danger to others, call 911 immediately.
Other items in a safety plan may include reasons for living, friends/family and professionals to call and talk to, and a plan for making your environment safe (e.g. removing items that may be used as weapons). Talk with your loved one and tell them you would like to be included in their safety plan, and talk about what would be most helpful if that situation arose.
As your loved one continues in their recovery, they will have unique ways of caring for themselves. Perhaps they’ll be exercising more, quitting their alcohol or tobacco use, or investing in a new hobby. Find a way to encourage them in these areas. Join them for a weekly run, start a nicotine patch at the same time, or start attending a painting class together. If you aren’t able to support them face-to-face, find time to call them and ask about their self-care.
Depression can be a difficult and unpredictable illness. There may be seasons of their life when they are feeling great, and other times when their symptoms may worsen, perhaps to the point of needing hospitalization. Knowing the cycles of their illness can be an important piece of recovery.
Depression is a serious medical illness and is much more complicated than someone being “sad” or “blue.” Rather than focusing on “fixing” their emotions, find ways to support them as they build and maintain their long-term wellness.
Supporting a loved one with depression can be a difficult task. It is important to remember your own health and wellness. Continue to invest in your own hobbies and interests. Also, consider finding a support group or therapist to help you process your own emotions in regard to your loved one’s depression.
If your loved one has been hospitalized for their depression, it can be easy to assume that they’re all better after being released. However, many studies have shown that someone’s risk for suicide is highest in the week immediately following a discharge from an in-patient psychiatric hospitalization. It is critical that your loved one has strong emotional support during this time. It’s also critical to have a “warm hand-off” between the psychiatric hospital staff and your loved one’s outpatient providers. This continuity of care is vital to making sure your loved one doesn’t slip through the cracks.
Supporting someone with depression can be difficult and exhausting. Support their wellness and recovery by learning about their unique symptoms, collaborating with them on self-care, supporting their safety plan, and remembering to take time to care for yourself. Depression doesn’t end quickly, and it can be a long journey to healing for the sufferer, and for you as the supporter. But never forget that it’s an important journey to make for the one you love.
More expert advice about Depression
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