Depression is a condition, which includes a combination of symptoms that interfere with the person’s daily activities. Criteria for a major depressive disorder may include depressed mood most of the day or nearly every day, diminished interest or pleasure, significantly poor or increased appetite, weight loss/weight gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, irritability, agitation, lack of concentration, fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day, and recurrent thoughts of death.
Depressed mood is not necessarily a sign of a psychiatric disorder such as a major depressive disorder or of a bipolar disorder, but may be a normal reaction to difficult life events such as divorce, grief, diagnosis of critical illness. Depressed mood may also be a side effect of many medications and a symptom of several physical illnesses.
People with depression or depressed mood may feel sad, frustrated, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, guilty, irritable, have low self-esteem. They may loose interest in activities that were once pleasurable, experience problems with sleep, concentration, digestion, experience difficulties in making decisions, have low energy, overeat or lose appetite, lose interest in sex, and in general lose prospective of their future and self-worth, contemplate thoughts that life is not worth living.
Depression is a complex condition often requiring medical, psychological, or psychiatric help. It is a difficult condition to live with – painful both emotionally and physically, but also as hard a condition to live close by if you are a spouse, child, parent or sibling. If someone you love deals with depressed mood or depression, your natural desire is to help, to provide support, to cheer that person up. That, however, may not be easy, depressed people usually do not want to be a burden, try to isolate themselves and resist professional help and support from family and friends. Do not get frustrated and do not lose patience. Perhaps your best efforts will not “cure” your loved one's depression, but they will certainly make a difference.
Here I will provide 9 helpful tips to deal with a depressed person.
Unconditional love – is your love to the person despite everything, all the difficulties, illnesses, and troubles you may be going through. Love is a powerful medicine and the worse the person feels, the more love is needed to heal them. When someone is depressed they need to know and feel they are still loved. It may be difficult when they are taking it out on you, pushing you away, or simply not reacting to your efforts, but please do not turn away, show you care by using loving words and gestures.
Communication is key – keep that channel open at all times, do not stop talking and most importantly touching the depressed person. Offer a hug, touch the shoulder, hold the person's hand. Even when you are pushed away, be there regularly to support the person, don't lighten up your support. People with depression will often forget that there is a support network around them. Remind them of your presence in their life.
Giving space – perhaps the most difficult issue is to understand when the person asking for space means they need to be alone or when they are just trying to say “I need you”. It helps to ask additional questions and to connect physically (sit next to the person, hold hands or place your hand on their shoulder or thigh). Physical connection is very important for the depressed person, it transmits your care and offers a tactile soothing. If they need space they will tell you at this point and you will agree on how much time or space is necessary.
Power of presence – there will be days when the depressed person will feel so low it will be difficult to communicate at all. Think of yourself as being really sick with a virus, cold, or a migraine (I am sure you have experienced one of such bad days before) and remember how all you wanted was to stay in bed and not move. This is how a depressed person often feels and it has nothing to do with laziness. When these days happen, just be there, take initiative and do something that you know could bring joy to the person without asking them “What would you like?” or “What do you need now?” Maybe its a favorite dessert or a cuddle on the couch watching favorite series non-stop,
Don't ignore the good days – use them to create an action plan for the low mood days. Sit down together with the person and talk over how they feel when they are depressed, what they need, what you could do to support them better. On a good day, the person can communicate his or her wishes more effectively and will appreciate your care more.
Beware of suicide – it is never enough stressed. Depression often leads to suicidal ideation, people feel so hopeless and worthless that they may start doubting the value of life. Ask questions all the time, do not be afraid to sound silly – you may be able to save that person's life. Ask “Are you thinking about dying?”, “Are you thinking about suicide or hurting yourself?”, if the answer is yes, ask “Have you thought about how you would do it?” or “Have you thought about how this would happen?”. Call emergency services or the person's doctor if you fear suicidal thoughts may be at play. Do not leave the person alone. Depression requires professional help sometimes even when the person is resisting.
Loss of interest in sex – if the depressed person is your spouse, you need to understand sexual desire will be affected or lost completely. Do not take it personally. Cuddle without expectations of sex. Being intimate with a person doesn't necessarily mean being sexual.
Try to promote routine – healthy nutrition, exercise and sleep are the pillars of good health. On a low mood day, it may be difficult to keep any of those going, but make an effort during good days to motivate the “feel good” factor to become a habit. Exercising is particularly important and it can be as easy as going on a walk together.
Be an active and compassionate listener – Learn to listen to your loved one and avoid giving advice. Encourage a good conversation, allow the person to share their feelings, concerns without the fear of being judged or lectured. Do not say “I know how you feel”, you usually don't and it won't help the person to open up.
Whether your loved one is going through a period of depressed mood or suffers from recurrent depressive episodes, consider seeking professional help. Try suggesting to find a doctor or a therapist, to talk to their physician. Depression drains the person of motivation and hope for recovery, promotes negative thinking. Don't let this stop your efforts in encouraging treatment.
© 2015 Veronica Semenova, Ph.D.