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 are not themselves. That’s where loved ones come in. It may fall to the people closest to the patient to gently urge him or her to seek professional help.

New therapies for depression and wider cultural awareness of the medical nature of this affliction 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 patient’s spouse, partner, or family member to gently, but firmly, insist that the patient get help. Talk to the patient about his or her symptoms in a nonjudgmental way. Offer to make an appointment with a family physician or mental health professional, and make sure the patient attends the appointment.

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

It’s also important to remember that depression is not anyone’s fault, nor is it a choice. Depression is a genuine disease.

People with clinical depression are not able to “snap out of it” on their own, and sometimes depression manifests in unexpected ways. The typical patient may exhibit lethargy, becoming withdrawn, sleeping excessively (or struggling with insomnia), feeling helpless, hopeless, and showing signs of self-hate, guilt, or feelings of worthlessness. But others may become agitated, irritable, restless, and even angry. In these cases, the patient may lash out at the people closest to him or her. Keep in mind that these attacks cannot be taken personally. The patient still needs help, despite his or her insistence on being left alone. 

After a patient has begun treatment, be it drug therapy, talk therapy, or both, it’s important for loved ones to remain involved. The patient will likely need ongoing support and encouragement. Be willing to listen, and be wary of pushing too hard. You will also need to be vigilant. The first few weeks after starting medication, for instance, are especially important, as thoughts of suicide often increase briefly during this period. 

Modern antidepressant drugs often take weeks to reach full effectiveness. In the interim, a patient may become even more discouraged, thinking that things will never get better. It’s up to a loved one to keep the patient 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 the patient’s health care professional for further instructions.

It may also be necessary to assist your loved one by making sure he or she 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 his or her attention and energy on helping the patient, to the exclusion of his or her own needs.

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

Now is not the time to go it alone. Ask friends or family members for help and additional support. The patient may wish to conceal his or her diagnosis, but secrecy is counterproductive. You can’t and shouldn’t bear the burden of the illness on your own. Let others in, and remember to make time for your own needs. 

Living with depression is inarguably stressful. If your loved one refuses treatment, or has just begun treatment, he or she may require near constant monitoring. It's important to ask for help. Talk with your partner’s mental health provider about support groups you might join. It often helps to know that you are not alone. 

Stage an Intervention If Necessary 

Often, people with depression are unwilling, or unable to recognize that there is 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, and schedule a time when everyone can get together with the patient to express your collective concerns.

Keep in mind that the patient should be approached gently, and confronted not with judgment, but with compassion and understanding. Offer to lend steadfast support, but remain insistent that some steps be taken to address the problem.