Ideas on How to Handle
Understanding the Impact of Depression
Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. In addition, depression affects how a person eats, how much he sleeps, what he feels about himself, and how he thinks about things. Depression is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness, or a condition wished away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. A mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. Affects Millions
Depression is a serious disorder that affects millions of people. Not only could you see it in your family member, but you might have it as well. Depression is common among caregivers and frequently seen in the chronically ill. Therefore, your situation may require you to deal with more than one type of depression at a time and multiple symptoms simultaneously.
Family Member and Caregiver May Experience Depression
Attempting to care for someone who is depressed while you are depressed, too, may feel overwhelming. If this describes your life, I encourage you to seek help rather than attempt to manage this alone. Contact your doctor or local mental health clinic for assistance today for guidance. If you don’t feel you need that amount of help at this time, the following information may still be of interest to you in case you need it in the future.
Talking to Someone About Depression
Approaching Someone Who Is Depressed
If you notice signs of depression and want to talk to your family member about your concerns, how do you start the conversation? What do you say? It’s scary to think about bringing up such a serious topic with someone when you don’t know what to say to them if they ask you for help. It takes a lot of courage, at times, to take that step.
Tips to help with the conversation
Here are some tips to help with that conversation.
- Being a compassionate listener is much more important than giving advice.
- You don’t have to “fix” them. You’re there to listen without judgment.
- Often, just being with them in person, letting them talk, or just sitting with them and letting them share your presence is more than enough.
- If they do talk, it’s not the time to make a judgment about what they tell you. Just let your depressed family member say what they need to say.
- After they tell you something, talk more about how they feel about what they shared rather than the details of what happened. It’s the feeling about the story that is causing the depression.
- While they talk, actively listen. Look at their face. Nod your head, showing that you hear what they are saying. Acknowledge comments with short words or sounds. Depending on how you think the person would accept touch from you, a gentle pat on their hand, shoulder, or back might show empathy.
Suggestions on how to start the conversation:
I took the excerpt below from ” Helping Someone with Depression” at www.helpguide.org. I think their recommendations on how to have a conversation about depression are excellent. I decided to use their comments “as is” because their wording, in my opinion, could not be improved. See below.
Starting the Conversation:
- “I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”
- “Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.”
- “I wanted to check in with you because you have seemed pretty down lately.”
Keeping the Conversation Going:
- “When did you begin feeling like this?”
- “Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”
- “How can I best support you right now?”
- “Have you thought about getting help?”
Ways to Offer Encouragement While Talking:
- “You’re not alone. I’m here for you during this tough time.”
- “It may be hard to believe right now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”
- “Please tell me what I can do now to help you.”
- “Even if I’m not able to understand exactly how you feel, I care about you and want to help.”
- “You’re important to me. Your life is important to me.”
- “When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, or minute—whatever you can manage.”
Things Not to Say:
- "This is all in your head."
- “Everyone goes through tough times.”
- “Try to look on the bright side.”
- “Why do you want to die when you have so much to live for?”
- “I can’t do anything about your situation.”
- “Just snap out of it.”
- “You should be feeling better by now.”
Key Facts About Depression
Fact 1 – Depression is a Serious Condition
A person cannot simply "get over" being depressed because they set their mind to it one day. There is a chemical imbalance at the root of their problem, and without a way to replace it, their symptoms will not get better on their own. Instead, depression continues to drain away their energy, optimism, and motivation.
Fact 2 – The Symptoms of Depression Aren’t Personal
When a person is depressed, they feel as if they are numb and disconnected from everything and everyone around them. It’s exceedingly difficult for them to connect with anyone because they withdraw so far into themselves. They may say hurtful things and lash out at those they love in anger and frustration; however, they don’t intend to hurt anyone. Depression takes charge of their actions and tells them to push everyone away, even those they love the most. Therefore, try not to take it personally, although I know what they say often hurts.
Fact 3 – Hiding the Problem Won’t Make It Go Away
Helping to hide someone’s depression or pretending there isn’t a problem is dangerous. Failure to acknowledge the symptoms of depression can result in the problem progressing to a more serious level. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away; it only delays treatment and could eventually lead to thoughts of suicide.
Fact 4 – Your Family Member Isn't Lazy or Unmotivated
When someone is depressed, they are exhausted all the time. It takes all their energy just to breathe and keep putting one foot in front of the other. They want to get help, but they don’t have the energy to do anything about it. The thought of picking up a phone takes too much effort; it’s like climbing Mount Everett. Caregivers can help by being patient and providing ongoing encouragement to them to take baby steps toward recovery.
Fact 5 – You Can’t “Fix” Someone Else’s Depression
As a caregiver, you want to make your family member better and take on their struggles for them when you see them drowning. However, you can’t do that with depression. The person suffering from depression must fix this problem on their own. You can encourage them and help guide them, but the “fix” is theirs. You are not responsible for their happiness. You can offer love and support, but ultimate recovery is in their hands.
The Risk of Suicide is Real
If you believe your family member is at immediate risk for suicide, do NOT leave them alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s difficult to believe someone you care about might be considering suicide, but depression clouds the way a person thinks. Someone battling severe depression may feel there is no way out but suicide. Often, they convenience themselves that everyone would be better off without them. Death seems the only way to stop the pain.
Therefore, become familiar with the following warning signs.
- Talking about suicide, dying, or harming oneself or a preoccupation with death
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or self-hate
- Acting in dangerous or self-destructive ways
- Getting affairs in order, giving precious belongings away, and saying goodbye
- Seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal objects.
- A sudden sense of calm after depression
Helping Someone with Depression
Recognize Signs of Depression
Sometimes a person gradually slips into depression without realizing how low they have sunk. As their motivation to rise above the sadness is waning, you notice a change in their appearance and behaviors. If you notice some of the following behaviors coming together in someone’s life, your gut may be telling you that something isn’t right. Listen to it. Friends and family are often the first to notice warning signs and become the first defense in the fight against depression.
Pay attention and start being concerned if you notice the following warning signs:
- Doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore – Little or no interest in work, sex, hobbies, and other things that used to bring pleasure. Has withdrawn from family and friends and other social activities. Prefers to be alone rather than talk to or be with others.
- Expresses a bleak or negative outlook on life – Is uncharacteristically sad, irritable, short-tempered, critical, or moody; talks about feeling “helpless,” “hopeless,” or “empty.”
- Frequently complains of aches and pains such as headaches, stomach problems, and back pain, or physical complaints like feeling tired and drained of energy all the time.
- Sleeps less than usual, sleeps all the time, or oversleeps. Has become indecisive, forgetful, disorganized, or acts “out of it.”
- Eats more or less than usual and has recently gained or lost weight.
- Drinks more or abuses drugs, including prescription sleeping pills, painkillers, or other mood-altering medications, to self-medicate how they feel.
- Deliberately hurts or attempts to hurt themselves.
- Talks about suicide or harming someone else
- Doesn’t know who they are, where they are, or what time of day it is (i.e., they are disoriented)
- Begins to experience hallucinations (sees or hears things that are not there) or delusions (believes things that are not true or real)
- Seems confused about what is going on around them or isn’t making sense with what they say or do
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Tips for Promoting Treatment for Depression
Don't Ignore Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
If you notice behaviors that indicate thoughts of suicide, ask your family member if they are thinking about harming themselves. By letting them know you noticed their need for help and want to be there for them, you may be able to save their lives.
- Encourage your family member to get help from a mental health counselor or psychiatrist.
- If they don't go to a mental health professional, suggest seeing their health care provider.
- Offer to help them find a mental health professional or clinic. Even offer to go with them for that first appointment if they need moral support.
- Explain to them that sometimes medical problems cause depression, or medication side effects are to blame. Encourage them to seek medical evaluation for that reason if for no other.
After Starting Treatment, Ways to Promote Continuation
- Before the appointment, write down a thorough list of all symptoms and ailments, you need to discuss with the doctor to not forget to mention something when you see the doctor.
- Once treatment begins, help them by keeping track of appointments and directing their energy toward recovery.
- Be realistic in your expectations. Recovery from depression takes time and patience. It’s a slow, steady climb back to their pre-depression days.
- Lead by example. Maintain a healthier lifestyle—eat better, sleep better, avoid drugs and alcohol, exercise, get fresh air, and lean on others when you need support.
- Encourage activity that is uplifting, fun, and entertaining. Participate in things that are positive and promote a good outlook on life.
Don’t Take Responsibility for Their Decisions
While you are an important part of your family member’s recovery, you cannot fix them. The success of their recovery is totally up to them. You can help create an environment where they can be successful, give them the tools and resources they need, and clear the pathway, but choosing to follow through and then committing to the plan is the responsibility of your family member. You can’t make someone choose to get better.
There is also a risk of taking on so much responsibility for your family member's well-being that you become overwhelmed and risk becoming depressed, too. Be careful not to deplete yourself to the point that there is nothing left for you or your family member resulting in both of you crashing and burning! You must take care of your own needs before you can take care of anyone else. When you are deeply committed to helping someone, it’s easy to overcommit. Here are some principles to keep in mind to make sure you are meeting your own mental health needs at the same time.
- Speak Up for Yourself – If the depressed person upsets you or lets you down, tell them. Honest communication is important even though they are depressed. If you keep your hurt feelings to yourself, you will resent them, and they will begin to feel the resent you feel toward them for what happened. Those unspoken negative emotions cause more harm than open, honest communications. If you need to share a negative message, say it in a non-accusatory manner as you seek to better understand how to prevent the action in the future.
- Set Boundaries – Set clear limits on what you are willing and able to do. You are not your family member's therapist, and you should not try to take that responsibility onto your shoulders.
- Stay on Track with your Life – Keep your appointments and plans with your friends. If you planned to take a class or have a hobby continue to participate. Don’t let them dominate all your time.
- Seek Support – you are not betraying your depressed relative if you go to a support group or elsewhere to get help. It would help if you had your emotional outlet and place you can speak frankly and confidently without interruption and judgment.