Helping Someone

It’s never easy to face depression. For any number of reasons, people with depression may resist seeking help.

Old prejudices about mental illness may motivate some people to avoid diagnosis, and thus fail to seek treatment. Other patients may simply fail to see that they aren’t acting like themselves. That’s where loved ones come in. It may fall to the people closest to the depressed person to gently urge them to seek professional help.

Out of the shadows

New therapies for depression and wider cultural awareness of the medical nature of this condition have helped bring depression out of the shadows.  

People with major depression may become too depressed to take the initiative to seek help. Among the symptoms of depression are a negative outlook and a sense of hopelessness. These symptoms may make it difficult for a patient to envision getting better.

It’s important in these cases for the partner, friend, or family member to gently, but firmly, insist that their loved one gets help. Talk to them about their symptoms in a nonjudgmental way. Offer to make an appointment with a family physician or mental health professional, and make sure they attend the appointment. Ultimately, you can’t force your loved one to seek help, but you can offer support and encouragement.

If you go along, help your loved one prepare questions for the doctor and keep track of the doctor’s recommendations.

Depression is not a character flaw

Depression isn’t anyone’s fault, nor is it a choice. Depression is a disease.

People with clinical depression aren’t able to “snap out of it” on their own. Sometimes depression manifests in unexpected ways. Typically, a person may become lethargic or withdrawn, sleep excessively (or struggle with insomnia), feel helpless or hopeless, or show signs of self-hate, guilt, or feelings of worthlessness. Others may become agitated, irritable, restless, and even angry. In these cases, they may lash out at the people closest to them. Keep in mind that these attacks aren’t personal. The person still needs help, despite their insistence on being left alone. 

After your loved one begins treatment, be it drug therapy, talk therapy, or both, it’s important to remain involved. They’ll likely need ongoing support and encouragement. Be willing to listen, and be wary of pushing too hard. You’ll also need to be vigilant. The first few weeks after starting medication, for instance, are especially important, as thoughts of suicide may increase for a time during this period. 

Modern antidepressant drugs often take several weeks to reach full effectiveness. In the interim, a person with depression may become even more discouraged, thinking that things will never get better. It’s up to a loved one to keep them on track, encouraging and reassuring them. 

It’s also important to monitor any changes for the worse. Deepening depression can be serious, and may warrant a call to a healthcare professional for further advice.

You may also need to help make sure your loved one eats regularly and healthfully, and gets regular exercise. Good nutrition and regular exercise have been shown to improve the symptoms of depression.

Take care of yourself, too

All too often when major illness strikes a loved one, the patient’s partner or spouse focuses all of their energy on helping the patient to the exclusion of their own needs.

Depression can be a serious, deeply troubling illness, but you need to take care of yourself, too. It’s more important than ever to continue getting exercise, eating well, and taking time to relax.

Now isn’t the time to deal with the situation alone. Ask friends or family members for help and additional support. The depressed person may wish to conceal their diagnosis, but secrecy is counterproductive. You can’t and shouldn’t bear the burden of the illness on your own. However, you must keep in mind that you shouldn’t reveal your loved one’s diagnosis if they don’t want you to. Discuss the matter with the depressed person, and remember that the decision is theirs.

Living with depression can be stressful. If your loved one refuses treatment, or has just begun treatment, they may require constant monitoring. It’s important to ask for help. Talk with your partner’s doctor about support groups you might join. It often helps to know that you’re not alone. 

Stage an intervention if necessary

Often, people with depression are unwilling or unable to recognize that there’s a serious problem. At such times, it may be necessary to stage an intervention. Again, it’s crucial to seek help from close friends or family members. Explain the situation to them. Then schedule a time when everyone can get together to express your collective concerns.

Keep in mind that you should approach your loved one gently. Use compassion and understanding, not judgment. Offer to lend support, but remain insistent that they take steps to address the problem.