An estimated five percent of adults worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. Depression affects everyone differently and can appear through a variety of symptoms. Anyone can be affected by depression, including your loved ones. Supporting an individual with depression can be challenging. Understanding how they feel and learning about resources available can help you become more equipped to support your loved one who’s battling this mental illness.

Is it just a bad day or depression?

If you’ve noticed a change in behavior by a loved one, it’s important to identify and understand the difference between “feeling blue” vs. depression. While everyone will feel down in the dumps every so often, this is commonly caused by a specific event that influences feelings of sadness. However, this setback doesn’t last for an extended period nor have a significant interference with day-to-day functioning. On the other hand, individuals who suffer from depression will show more symptoms beyond feeling sad that take a toll on daily functioning.

Some symptoms of depression include:

  • Overall sadness, feeling “empty” or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Fatigue and decrease of energy
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite

Diagnosing depression

A healthcare professional can provide a proper diagnosis of depression. If an individual is suffering with a minimum of five symptoms (including feelings of sadness), for at least two weeks, it may be depression.

Caring for a loved one

Individuals suffering from depression can benefit from a shoulder to lean on, whether they realize it or not. In most cases, those who have depression tend to not seek out help. By offering support and resources to someone with depression, you can significantly increase someone’s quality of life and get them back on track.

Some ways to help include:

  • Address the concern: The first step you can take to help support your loved one is by sitting them down and letting them know you’re concerned about their mental health. This can be an uncomfortable conversation, but this will show the individual that you are there to support and care for them.
  • Be available and listen: Let your loved one know they can always reach out to you for their needs. Be there for them and show your support by listening to them and providing comfort. Be cautious of providing unsolicited advice that can come off harsh.
  • Offer to help with tasks: Cleaning around the house or making a simple meal might not seem like a big deal, but those who suffer from depression can be overwhelmed by these simple tasks, so pitching in when possible is a huge help.
  • Suggest doing activities together: Going on a walk or doing a puzzle together can benefit someone’s mental health. Encourage the individual to join you in these activities. Remember to not force them and to take one step at a time.
  • Provide resources: Encourage the individual to talk with their healthcare provider or a mental health professional, like a psychologist or psychiatrist, for treatment options to get them the help they need.

Your mental health matters too

It’s not an easy task to care for someone with depression, it can take a toll on your mental health as well. To avoid burn out, remember to take time for yourself and ask for additional help, if needed. Some tips to avoid burn out include:

  • Maintain relationships with others and stay connected
  • Exercise daily, even if it’s for 10 minutes
  • Know your limits and when you need to take a break
  • Get your sleep and maintain a healthy diet

There is hope

Depression is a tough mental illness to battle, but its treatable. There’s hope to overcoming it with the right resources and support. With these tips in mind, your companionship and love can help put someone with depression on the road to recovery.

Psychiatrist Joanna Stanczak, MD, says, “As Bill Withers sang, ‘lean on me when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.’ Social support in an individual with depression is a strong external protective factor. The experience of being understood, accepted and respected regardless of the mental state of a person can be viewed as a sense of relief for the individual that is carrying the burden of depression. The support of others has been shown to be a shield for psychosocial stressors as well as an important factor in resilience. If a loved one is experiencing symptoms that are a cause of concern, contact a healthcare provider who may assess and provide a patient tailored treatment plan.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, you can take a screening to see if you should seek out a mental health professional. Completing these screenings will help you determine if your recent thoughts or behaviors may be associated with a common, treatable mental health issue. However, it should not function as a substitute for a clinical evaluation or diagnosis. Please consult with a healthcare professional for more information and a complete evaluation.

Find out more about services available through Mather Hospital’s Behavioral Health unit.

National suicide and crisis hotline: 988