Support and care tips for helping people with depression

helping friend with depression

Last Updated September 21st, 2020

What depression can do to a person

In truth, patients suffering from depression have often termed their experience as “living in a black hole”. The right level of support and companionship can play an important role in overcoming depression and returning to a normal life. We can help our friends and family members to overcome the negative feelings, regain energy and start enjoying life once again. The feelings and causes of depression vary from one person to another. It is necessary to understand the underlying cause of depression and differentiate the depressing images created by the mind from the actual reality.

What is depression?

Depression is a serious mental problem that occurs to most people at one time or the other through the course of their lives. Such patients come from every age and all walks of life and they not only suffer themselves but also affect the lives of others around them. It has been estimated that at present, around 270 million patients around the world are suffering from depression. The tragic fact is that depression is one of the major causes behind the 800 000 incidents of suicide that occur every year. A feeling of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness that persist for weeks are some of the symptoms that characterise people who are in depression.

Long-lasting depression that is of severe intensity is a serious disorder. Thankfully, depression is a condition that is curable. Unfortunately, around 75 to 80 percent of the patients suffering from depression in low- and middle-income countries do not receive any treatment for the same. In many cases, the patients with the symptoms are not properly diagnosed and quite often, they are misdiagnosed. It is to be noted that feelings of sadness or loss that often arises in the mind from various situations are not the same as depression. The mechanism of grief is normal and even though it has some common features with depression. It is to be noted that depression can affect any person irrespective of social or medical background.

Causes of depression

Due to the various complex biological, lifecycle and hormonal factors, women are more likely to be affected by depression than men. Some factors have been listed down which can play a role in the development of depression in the mind. These are listed below.

  • Biochemistry affects depression levels in a person. Certain changes or fluctuations in the various chemicals generated in the brain can lead to depression.
  • It has been proved that among identical twins if one suffers from depression, there is a high chance that the other will be affected too. On the whole, genetics plays an important role in the development of depression.
  • Personality is also a factor that can be a cause behind depression. The mental framework of a person determines his or her vulnerability to depression. Pessimistic individuals with low self-esteem are more likely to get affected.
  • Environmental factors and life situations that a person is subjected to can lead to depression. This includes exposure to stress, violence, social pressure, neglect, abuse or poverty.
  • Chronic ailments that lead to extreme pain or discomfort can lead to depression. This includes cancer, diabetes or heart disease. In some cases, severe accidents that render a person paralyzed can also act as a trigger.

Symptoms of Depression

Even though the symptoms of depression vary, there are a few that can be considered as standard. They are listed below for reference.

  • Most patients experience feelings of hopelessness as well as helplessness. This leads to the formation of an idea that the prevailing situation is not going to get better and can only turn worse.
  • The lack of interest in daily activities is another common symptom. A suffering individual can lose interest in hobbies, food, social activities and sex. This is accompanied by a general inability to experience joy or happiness.
  • Depression also leads to rapid weight loss that can happen at a very fast rate. Some patients lose as much as 5 percent of their body weight within a month.
  • There are changes in sleep patterns and bouts of insomnia. A patient can also oversleep or wake up at odd hours.
  • Patients often suffer from anger and irritation. This leads to agitation, restlessness and can develop into violence. In many cases, the tolerance level of the patient is very low and the temper is short.
  • The patients also feel weak and suffer from a lack of energy. This is accompanied by feelings of sluggishness and fatigue. This makes the daily tasks take more time for completion.
  • There is also a feeling of self-loathing along with feelings of guilt in the mind. The patient often criticizes himself or herself by taking the blame for mistakes and failures.
  • In some cases, depression can also lead to reckless behaviour. The patient can engage in substance abuse, gambling or dangerous sports or activities. In addition, this can also lead to thoughts of committing suicide to get rid of the problems.
  • Depression also leads to a lack of focus and concentration. The patient often finds it difficult to concentrate or focus on any subject.
  • Physical symptoms like aches and pains in the body can also happen. There can be unexplained headaches, joint aches or back pain.

Diagnosis and treatment of depression

The right diagnosis of depression is vital for the correct treatment. Since the symptoms are similar to that of a lower phase of bipolar disorder, the two can be confused. This is a serious problem as the use of antidepressants for bipolar depression can only worsen the scenario. The diagnosis involves a thorough interview of the patient by a professional and a physical examination if needed. Blood tests can also be done to determine that depression is not a result of hormonal imbalances. The professional conducts a complete evaluation of the medical and family history, cultural factors and environmental factors before planning the right course of treatment.

Various treatments are available to treat depression. These are the three main ways for reference.

Medication

is a major way to alter brain chemistry and using antidepressants bring about the necessary changes. These medicines generally have an effect after a few weeks. The doctor will make changes in the dosage depending on the effect of the medicines. And also advise to continue medication for a period of six months or more.

Psychotherapy

psychiatrist help for depressed

psychotherapy or “talk therapy,” is used to treat mild cases and is conducted along with the use of antidepressants. Apart from the patient, family or couples therapy is also done in many cases for effective treatment.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive Therapy electrically stimulates the brain while the patient is kept under anesthesia. Only a team of specialists use this therapy, in cases of major depression or bipolar disorder which has not responded to any other treatment.

Helping a person in depression

Before helping someone with the problem of depression, note these facts carefully.

  • It is a serious mistake to underestimate the negative effects of depression on a person. You should understand that it drains the overall energy of patients and turns them away from life. Depression is an ailment that cannot be overcome by willpower or optimism.
  • The overall behaviour of a person affected by depression is not personal. Such patients have emotional problems and it is common for them to use harsh or angry words.
  • Suppressing the symptoms will not make depression go away and hence the best option is to face the situation. Covering up the issues or lying will lead to further complications and hence it is important to face the problem and seek medical help.
  • You need a lot of patience, as a supporter, to help the loved one and guide him or her towards recovery. For the patient, even the easiest steps towards recovery can seem extremely difficult and hence the right level of motivation is needed.
  • Keep in mind that you cannot cure someone’s depression or bring them out of it. You can offer the necessary love and support but the key to recovery is in the hands of the depressed person. So do not blame yourself for the condition that a person close to you is in.
  • It is necessary that you do not minimize or compare their experiences with that of other people. This sort of an attitude will not help the patient and they may withdraw or feel negatively about it.
  • In case you feel that the patient is contemplating suicide in any form, try to reach out to the therapist or a crisis management centre at the earliest.

Steps in helping a depressed person

The following steps help a depressed person in the best possible manner.

Listening is important

helping friend with depression

It is important that you share your concerns with your friend and open a conversation to discuss the issue. While the person may be willing to talk about the condition, he or she may not be willing to accept advice from your end. First of all, show your empathy with your tone and body language. Try to validate their feelings without being overly inquisitive about the condition and don’t offer advice unless they ask for it. It is important for them to know that you are available for providing support whenever they want to talk.

Choose the right support

It is important that you can guide the depressed person to the right kind of support. Many patients feel helpless in this condition and feel embarrassed about seeking support. Try to find the best therapist who can act as a counsellor. You can also encourage them to make the first appointment so as to not delay the treatment. Explain to the patient that depression is a medical problem and there is nothing to be ashamed about it. You can also help the patient enlist for the right support group in the area.

Guiding through the therapy

The treatment process in depression does not have instantaneous action and hence patients can lose interest in the middle of a treatment. You can provide the necessary encouragement so that the patient can stick with the appointments and medications. Note that stopping antidepressants without medical advice can lead to various side effects that can have serious consequences.

Lower the stress levels

Take care to keep the depressed person in an environment that has low-stress levels. You can offer help to your friend with daily tasks to ease their burden. In the case of a family member, you can create the necessary environment that will help in relaxation. You can also encourage the patient to stay active through exercise or sports. In some cases, engagement in some spiritual activities can also help.

Patience is important

The problem does not have a quick fix and the doctor can try different medicines and counselling approaches, to find the best combination. The symptoms can also take some time to go away and sometimes they can come back. So, as a supporter, it is important for you to stay patient and not let a couple of bad days to affect your mood.

Keeping in touch

Many depression patients tend to avoid social interactions and hence as a friend or family member, it is important to reach out and offer support. It is necessary to let the person know that you care about them and is ready to offer positive support. So make it a point to keep in touch with your friend through a text message, phone call or a quick visit. Such communication can make a lot of difference in the condition of the patient.

Conclusion

Depression is a condition that can have serious consequences and hinder the overall enjoyment of life by the patient. While there is no specific cure for depression, treatments can gradually remove the symptoms and the earlier the treatment process starts, the better it is. So when the support from family and friends and positive changes in lifestyle do not help, it is necessary to seek medical support. Understand that the requirement of external help is a necessity and does not prove that the patient is weak. With the right level of support from friends, close family and the doctors, depression can be fully cured in due time.

 

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