There is a good chance you know someone who has depression. Per the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 51.5 million U.S. adults experienced mental health disorders in 2019. That’s one in five people, it says. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says depression is the main cause of disability in the U.S. among people ages 15 to 44.
While you may know that your loved one has depression, it doesn’t mean you will know what to say or how to best help them. The first thing to do is to learn more about the mental illness so you can understand what it is, how to recognize its signs and symptoms, and what kinds of help are available for your loved one.
Getting Clear on What Depression Is
There’s a perception that depression is a temporary mood marked by a case of the “blues.” These “blues” are usually associated with experiencing something sad or hurtful, or disappointing. But this is not what depression is or what it means.
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects a person’s entire being, from how they feel, think, and act (or don’t act) to how they manage their daily lives. It affects how much they eat, sleep, and work, among other activities. No part of their lives is untouched by this illness. It lasts for considerable periods, too. Depression is a mental health disorder on its own, but it can also be a symptom of other disorders.
Depression is also known as major depressive disorder (MDD). As the American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains, MDD ranges from mild or severe, although it is possible for a person to have a disorder that is somewhere in the middle. It is important to understand that depression presents differently. No two people will have the same symptoms.
In general, a person may be living with depression if they have any of the following:
- Lingering sadness
- Loss of or little interest in daily activities
- Showing little to no interest in once enjoyable hobbies or interests
- Appetite changes (may eat more or less)
- Non-diet-related weight loss or gain
- Low to no energy
- Uneasiness, irritability, restlessness
- Uses alcohol or drugs to self-medicate during tough emotional times
If you are not sure what to say to a loved one who has depression, you can always start by reaching out to them privately to show your concern. You can say something along the lines of, “How are you feeling? I’m checking in on you to make sure you’re OK.” You can mention that you notice that the person doesn’t seem like their usual self. You can also call, text, or visit in person to ask if they would like to go out for a walk, dinner, a coffee, or something else they like to do.
If your loved one starts to open up, you can ask them to help you understand when they started feeling down and what may have triggered them. You can also ask if they have considered reaching out for professional help and if they would like you to help them find someone to talk to.
Helping Someone You Love with Depression
There are several things you can do to help your loved one who is struggling with depression. First, have empathy and compassion. You’ll also need patience to guide you as this can be a tough mental health disorder to navigate for the person who has it and the people trying to help them.
Look for professional treatment for your loved one. Accredited facilities that specialize in helping people with mental health disorders are a good place to start. You can also speak with your loved one’s doctor and ask about places your loved one can go. Speaking with professionals can give you a clear idea of what to look for in a mental health program and what makes the one you choose the right place for your loved one.
A mental health facility has medical and mental health professionals on staff who can evaluate your loved one and determine the best treatment for them. Their treatment could include a hospital stay for further monitoring or a combination of therapy and medication. Ask all the questions you can about your loved one’s treatment and encourage them to ask questions, too. After all, it is their recovery program, so they should be invested in the outcome.
Be supportive. It can be challenging to accept a diagnosis of depression. A person’s reaction to this news depends on who they are, but they could further isolate themselves and shut down. While you’re figuring out what to say to a loved one with depression, you may want to give them their space. They need time to process their thoughts and feelings about things, so avoid pressuring them to open up and talk. They may not be ready. You can carry on as normal for you and your loved one if that helps. You can also let them know that you are there for them when they are ready to talk to you. Also, be sure to take care of yourself during this time.
You should take breaks, too, to process your feelings about the situation. You may find that getting your rest can help you be there for your loved one during those trying moments. There may be times when you feel anger or hurt. Try not to take these outbursts or events personally. It is hard, but taking your space can help with that. It is important to understand that you’re not there to change or fix your loved one. You can, however, help them face their mental health disorder and address it in healthy ways.
Set boundaries. While it is understandable that tensions can run high due to stress and other negative emotions, it is important to remain civil and engage in clear communication. Let your loved one know where you are on certain behaviors that you find acceptable and unacceptable. You both can set ground rules on how to talk with each other during the times when emotions run high. You can always encourage them to be honest and straightforward, but it is also important to keep everyone on the same page and working together.
Be there to listen to your loved one. This is a solid way to show support, and it’s also an opportunity to learn more about how the person you care for is dealing with depression. You will learn how this experience has been for them, and you can ask questions that can give you more insight into how to help them. Assure them that you will be there for them and ask them to let you know how you can help.
Plan for depressive episodes. As you talk with your loved one, learn what their triggers are and how you both can minimize them. You can also be proactive and plan for depressive episodes, including recognizing the signs of when they could happen. You can put this plan in writing and ensure everyone has access to it or a copy of it. Having an emergency plan in place can help you help your loved one manage their thoughts and feelings as well as your own.
Help your loved one commit to their recovery and management of depression. If your loved one is prescribed medication, such as antidepressants, and therapy, they may need help staying on top of things, especially if they have a major depressive episode where they lose track of time or feel unmotivated to look after their health and well-being. You can learn more about what’s involved in their treatment and find out what you can do to keep them on task.
You may want to make out a written schedule that reminds them of what they need to do or set alerts on their phone or computer that reminds them of tasks, appointments, or activities they need to do. Any support you can give them can help them maintain structure as they work on their recovery.
Your Loved One’s Depression May Signal Other Mental Disorders
A diagnosis of depression could also lead to the discovery of other mental illnesses your loved one could have, such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)
Other Ways to Tell If Your Loved One Has Depression
If your loved one shows low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy, like they aren’t enough, they may have depression. Some people with depression may have trouble with making decisions, thinking clearly, or moving or speaking faster. Some people also have thoughts of dying by suicide or harming themselves. A low mood that lasts for two weeks or longer could mean a person has clinical depression. This time is referred to as a major depressive episode, as explained in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). A medical or mental health professional is the person qualified to make this determination and official diagnosis.
There Are Different Types of Depression
Anyone can develop depression for any reason. Some people may not realize they have depression, which is why an official diagnosis is needed. Adapting to changing situations can trigger stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions or reactions, which could be outward signs of depression, as well. Various factors are thought to cause it, including a person’s brain chemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors. There are also different forms of depression. Some are:
Bipolar disorder: This mood disorder is also known as manic depressive disorder. There are different forms of bipolar, but one kind brings on manic depressive disorders. Mania is also present in bipolar disorders, particularly bipolar I.
Persistent depression: This form of depression is less severe than MDD, but it can last for months or years. Although it is mild, treatment is needed to help a person manage their daily life.
Seasonal depression: This condition is also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It occurs depending on the season of the year it is.
Postpartum depression: This form of depression occurs after childbirth and is called the “baby blues.” It is characterized by worry, sadness, and tiredness. For some women, postpartum depression lasts during the first three weeks or so after a baby’s arrival. However, it can last longer, causing problems for the mother. Mothers who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder are at greater risk of developing postpartum psychosis, according to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH).
Women can also experience perinatal depression as they carry their unborn.
Depressive psychosis: This form of MDD is marked with hallucinations and delusions, which are symptoms of psychosis, a state where a person has lost touch with reality.
What Happens If a Person Doesn’t Get Help for Depression?
A person with depression who does not get the help they need could experience any number of adverse outcomes. It is important to get help for a mental health disorder as soon as possible. If left untreated, a person with depression could experience:
- Overall unhappiness and loss of enjoyment of life
- Troubled or rocky interpersonal relationships
- Increased social isolation and withdrawal
- Substance abuse problems and addiction to drugs, alcohol, other substances
- Poor performance at work, school performance
- Legal and financial problems
- Poverty and homelessness
- Various health problems
- Self-harm and harming others
If your loved one is considering suicide, you must get them help right away. Visit your nearest hospital emergency room or urgent care center. You can also call the local police in your area or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255.
Depression is treatable with the right programs and medications in place. Your loved one can make a new start as they learn how to manage their depression and overall health and well-being.
Vista Pines Health, located in Pembroke Pines, FL, accepts patients for on-site mental health recovery. Our accredited professionals can help you and your loved one with finding treatment for depression and any related disorders or conditions. We also partner with Arete Recovery, an addiction treatment facility in Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s network, to work with patients who are dually diagnosed with a mental health disorder and substance use disorder (SUD).
Give us a call today so that we walk you and your loved one through recovery options.