Depression is one of the most common disorders seen by mental health professionals. For hormonal reasons, it is much more common in women, who are most susceptible to this after giving birth and during puberty, than in men. However, the risk decreases after menopause.
People going through depression can be completely overwhelmed by this experience, and they might not want to share their thoughts with others – even family members – because of the stigma surrounding it. It’s important to realize, however, that seeking professional help at an early stage is always recommended for quicker recovery.
In order to help someone who is going through depression, it is important to recognize some of the symptoms. The most telling ones include feeling low on most days or the loss of pleasure for two or more successive weeks. In addition, people can have symptoms that affect their thinking, emotions, behavior, and body. For example, they can isolate themselves, feel like crying or have crying spells for no specific reason, lose motivation, and feel angry, hopeless, and worthless. They may also experience changes in their appetite and in their sleep patterns. A lot of people with depression experience poor concentration and they subsequently either take time off work or go to work but have low productivity. Their energy levels may vary from low to fatigued to being unable to cope with anything, and their overall quality of life changes.
When the condition becomes severe, someone who is depressed might change their whole outlook on life, deciding that it is not worth living or experiencing thoughts of ending it all. That is why being aware of the above symptoms and being prepared to help a loved one going through depression is so important.
It is always helpful to listen carefully and accept others’ feelings without being judgmental. Making yourself available to your loved one during their period of depression is quite important. It is always helpful to be empathetic without minimizing their emotions by telling them the way they feel is normal, or that they should know how to cope with these feelings. Remember that people experiencing depression tend to be oversensitive, and they may refuse to seek professional help. Therefore, try encouraging treatment by explaining that part of depression is biological in nature, just like common medical illnesses that include diabetes or high blood pressure.
Sufferers of depression can experience negative thoughts about themselves, others, life, and the future. For example, a mother with postnatal depression may feel guilty, may feel she is not good enough, and may see her baby as a burden rather than a gift. Having a supportive husband, mother, and friends during this period is quite essential. The support may include helping her look after the baby and giving her time for herself to recharge her battery.
Here are a few key takeaways.
Don’t offer advice.
It’s better not to say anything as this can make the person pull away from the supporter themselves or from seeking treatment. The best approach is to listen with empathy, respect, and understanding, and encourage them to seek professional help.
You can offer help to your loved ones with simple tasks or in their daily activities, such as household chores, during their period of depression or while they seek treatment.
Avoid certain phrases.
These include: “This is a normal feeling. We all feel like this sometimes,” “You are strong. You can get through this alone,” and “These feelings are not a big deal.”
Share words of comfort.
“Don’t be ashamed. What you feel is not a sign of weakness,” “I understand this feeling is hard, but through seeking help, you can get through It,” and “I’m here for you.”
Know when to worry.
If you notice a serious impairment in any aspect of the person’s daily life, such as frequent absence from work, a change in their social relationships, or a withdrawal and lack of self-care, it may be time to seek an intervention.
Dr. Shaden Adel is a Specialist Psychiatrist at Maudsley Health in Abu Dhabi.