How to help someone with depression? Some may describe it as a dark cloud hanging permanently over their head. Some may see it as a continuous struggle that is one part sadness and two parts inadequacy. For most, it seems as though they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. A weight that impedes them from living a normal life.
Depression is an illness that can affect many people. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, sex, colour or social status and when it settles in, it becomes a whirlwind that affects not only those who suffer from it but those around them as well. People who experience this mental health issue ask themselves many different questions. Is it just sadness? Is it just a phase that will pass? Will I ever feel like myself again? Will it ever get better?
Even so, the most important questions must be asked by those who are not affected by this crippling disorder. What is depression? What are the signs that someone is suffering from it? And most importantly, how do we help someone with depression?
What is depression?
Depression is an illness that affects approximately 121 million people around the globe. But there is a difference between feeling depressed and suffering from depression.
Anybody can feel down sometimes be it because of an argument, the loss of a job or a love interest, or even because of a gloomy day. What makes things different for those who suffer from depression is the fact that they can’t seem to find that certain picker-upper that many of us resort to when feeling upset.
The stimuli that we receive from activities that bring us joy and a sense of well-being are something that patients diagnosed with clinical depression seem to be missing. As some studies show, it is not only an illness of the mind but one of the body as well.
In regards to the biological aspect of depression, scientists have found different neurological changes that occur in patients suffering from this illness. A notable difference is visible in the size of the frontal lobe, which seems to decrease in those diagnosed with depression. Dysfunctions in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are also tied to depression.
Studies have found that the abnormal transmission or even depletion of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine is also a key factor. Serotonin is found in the central nervous system and is also known as the “happiness molecule”. Dopamine is a chemical released by nerve cells, which plays an important role regarding motivation.
When it comes to the psychological aspect of depression, different theories have been considered throughout time.
The Behaviourist Theory
According to this theory, depression is a construct of the environment. A very important factor is considered to be the lack of positive reinforcement. One of the biggest supporters of this approach was Peter Lewinsohn who also added that one’s absence of personal skill is a critical component as well.
The Psychodynamic Theory
This theory was sustained by Freud, Chodoff, Kleine, Bibring and Fenichel in the 1960’s. Although Freud agreed to the fact that depression is often due to biological factors, his theory was that the illness can be associated with the loss of a loved one.
But not all people suffering from depression have lost someone dear to them. Freud had an answer for that as well. In his theory, the loss of material objects (e.g. a job) can cause depression when the individual lacks a healthy ego. Thus the superego isn’t balanced and healthful functioning becomes almost impossible.
This theory is based on the fact that people’s beliefs are more important than their behaviour. Thus, depression becomes a result of negative inclination in a person’s thinking.
Humanism is a perspective that in psychology focuses on the individual as a whole, seen both through the eyes of the observer and through the eyes of the patient as well. According to Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of human needs, achieving one’s potential is the top tier. Once that process of self-fulfillment is blocked in any way, depression can settle in.
The dispute about what is the most important element that causes depression has been an ongoing topic throughout time. Even so, many scientists agree that the disorder is a mixture of our DNA and the effects that the environment has on us.
What are the signs that someone is suffering from depression?
Many of us have, at some point or another felt as though we need a break from our daily routine. For those suffering from depression, even the most minute tasks are viewed as almost impossible to accomplish.
Pouring yourself a cup of coffee in the morning becomes a burden. Going to work requires almost super-human strength. And the worst part is the fact that they can’t seem to find a way to get out of this rut.
It is very easy for most to confuse a state of anguish with depression. Martin Seligman called it the “common cold” of psychiatry due to its recurrence in diagnoses.
In accordance with many psychologists, if you experience at least five of the following symptoms, you will be diagnosed with depression.
- Fatigue, apathy, and tiredness;
- Inability to concentrate;
- Loss of appetite;
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns;
- Discomfort and pain that cannot be explained;
- Indisposition, irritability, and mood swings;
- Feeling of impending doom;
- Feeling of self-disdain.
Looking for these signs in the conduct of those around us can not only aid in improving their mental state but can even save a life.
How do we help someone with depression?
As we acknowledged in the last paragraph, the first and most important step in helping someone suffering from depression is noticing the syndromes. And although awareness is detrimental, we need to educate ourselves about the illness and learn how to aid in the process of recovery.
We must understand that depression is a very real condition. The stigma around mental illness, in general, is passed on to depressive disorders as well. Just a simple Google search for “depressive people are selfish” generates approximately 11.900.000 results.
If you search for “depression is fake” you can get up to 17.600.000 results. The misconception about this illness is often the reason why people suffering from it take up to 10 years to ask for help.
If you asked yourself how to help someone with depression, here is a list of things that you can do to support them:
- Help them keep up with their medication plan
After being diagnosed with chronic depression, many people are put on a strict medication regimen. For many, this seems like a very serious step that makes the illness more real. It is important to embolden and support the rituals they need to obey in order to get better.
Listen to their feeling about the effects of the treatment. If the effects are negative, encourage them to ask for a change of medication plan or even consider a second opinion.
- Validate their worth
In cases of depression, self-esteem is known to plummet. Positive reinforcement is a key factor especially taking into consideration the fact that people with depression have disparate views of themselves and their environment.
- Be a good listener
It is very difficult to open up about depression and when someone does, be careful to lend a listening ear. In this way, you can aid that person to relieve some stress and also learn ways in which you can be of help to their certain needs.
- Encourage physical activity
Physical activity is linked to treating mild to moderate depression. In some cases, it has been as effective as antidepressants. Taking your loved one for a jog in the park, hiking or engaging them in any type of sport can be a huge step in the right direction.
It is important to know what you can do. Equally important are the things that you must steer away from when handling someone with depression.
Here is a list of what not to do:
- Do not underestimate their illness
You need to understand that this is not just a phase or something that someone can simply “get over”. Although for you, it may not seem like such a big issue, for them it is something that controls every aspect of their life.
- Do not tell them they’re too much
Sometimes living with someone with depression can be a handful. The mood swings and the irritability can sometimes be difficult to bear.
If you have these feelings, just imagine what someone who is suffering from this illness has to deal with. They are aware of the fact that many times they are being difficult. They know that their ailment is a burden. The fact that you are making them feel like a burden is not going to help the cause.
- Do not force your agenda on them
Although you have received some pointers on how to treat those with depression it is important not to impose your views. Offer your advice and suggestions but accept the fact that they can be refused.
Everybody deals with depression differently and what may be helpful for a certain individual may do nothing for another. Arm yourself with patience and understanding and discover the perfect way in which you can conquer this together.
How to help someone with depression?
To sum it up, there are many ways to help someone who is suffering from depression. Due to the fact that different people have different needs, we can boil it down to one action, which involves a very simple question: “How to help someone with depression?”.