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Depression is a common and serious mental disorder that causes tremendous pain and can disrupt daily routines and relationships. When a loved one is struggling with depression it can be hard to know exactly how to help, and sometimes even what to say.
People experience depression in different ways. For many, it can hamper their work motivation and productivity, mess up sleep routines and suck up all their interest in leisure and social activities. Others might feel overwhelmed and anguished without understanding it. Either way, depression impacts everyday life and ends up hurting not just those suffering from it but also those around them.
Supporting a loved one with depression can be a challenge. You might feel anxious, sad, afraid, frustrated, angry, and guilty for having these negative emotions, to begin with. These feelings are perfectly normal, so you shouldn’t blame yourself. Remender that you too are allowed to experience and express your emotions and needs. It’s crucial to look after your mental health to better help your loved one.
Your caring and understanding can be key factors in the recovery. You can play an important role in helping them gather up the energy and optimism to start the healing process, and also being there to cheer them on through each conquer.
The first step towards helping a loved one with depression is to understand the symptoms. While symptoms vary from person to person, familiarizing yourself with the different scenarios and possibilities will help you better understand what your loved one is experiencing.
Recognizing Depression Symptoms in a Loved One
It can be hard to notice the difference between a really rough time in someone’s life and a mental disorder, like depression. Someone dealing with depression might feel ashamed and worried about how people will react, and be reluctant to talk about it.
As a friend or family member, you’re the first line of defense in the fight against depression. That’s why it’s so important to know how to identify the signs of depression. This way if you recognize a problem before your loved one even realizes it, your concern and support can motivate them to seek help.
Although symptoms can vary, there are changes in a person’s behavior that you can look out for. Pay attention if you’re loved one:
- seem down or tearful a lot of the time, or irritable and critical more often;
- stay up late or sleep in a lot, or have problems with sleep;
- lost interest in work, sex, hobbies, and other daily activities;
- withdraw from friends, family, and other social activities;
- eat more or less than usual, and have gained or lost weight;
- drink more or abuse drugs, as a way to self-medicate how they’re feeling;
- talk about feeling empty, hopeless, or worthless;
- complain of aches and pains such as headaches, stomach problems, or of feeling tired and drained all the time;
- express a bleak or negative outlook on life and about the future.
A lack of awareness about the symptoms of depression can make people dismiss them as normal or as a time-limited struggle. In addition, the stigma of seeking help for depression can make people try to overtake it on their own or delay the treatment process.
So, if you are struggling with how to better help a loved one with depression, check out 5 helpful tips from our experienced Baltimore therapist.
5 Tips to Help a Loved One with Depression
Remember that not everyone experiences depression in the same way, and while these tips can be helpful, it’s important to talk with each person about their feelings and needs.
1. Learn about what your loved one is going through
Understanding how depression affects people and learning the different symptoms can help you have more in-depth conversations and empathize with the pain.
Searching for information about depression can give you the confidence to start up the conversation, however, the best person to explain the experience with depression is the person going through it. So, be there for your loved one and give as much unconditional support as you can.
Remember that depression isn’t anyone’s fault. And while you can’t fix it, your support and understanding can really make a difference.
2. Encourage the person to get help
Your loved one may not recognize or acknowledge the signs of depression, so the idea of getting help could be far away. Plus, people often feel ashamed or hesitant about talking to a mental health professional.
Without proper therapy, depression can worsen and give way to other problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse, self-harm, or suicide. A specialized therapist can help the person you care about get better.
Encouraging your loved one to make that first appointment can help them take that important step and start therapy sooner. If you feel that the process of finding a therapist or scheduling an appointment is being particularly challenging, try offering your help.
3. Be there to walk the talk
Living with depression is a daily struggle, where for some days getting out of bed or leaving the house can seem like an impossible challenge. Likewise, the recovery process is very hard and can have plenty of setbacks.
If you sense that your loved one is going back to old patterns you can suggest spending time together and doing something that both can enjoy. Exercise can be especially helpful, as physical activity triggers a release of dopamine and serotonin, the “feel-good” chemicals. Going on walks together can be a smooth first suggestion and also a great opportunity to have long talks and unburden.
4. Be patient and celebrate their successes
Depression doesn’t have a clear recovery timeline. The therapy process can be slow and it doesn’t always mean all symptoms will disappear entirely. Your loved one may continue to experience difficult periods from time to time.
There will be good days and bad days, so it’s important to manage your expectations and avoid feeling frustrated and impatient if a string of bad days shakes up your hope for improvement.
It can be hard to see the achievements and progress, especially in the darkest days. You will have to assume the role of personal cheerleader: each time your friend or family member takes a step towards greater well-being and mental health, cheer them on and help them feel proud of their accomplishment.
5. Taking care of yourself
When you care about someone struggling with depression, you can feel the urge to drop everything, neglect your own needs, and focus all your energy on them. There’s a natural impulse to rescue the people we love from their pain, however, we can’t solve someone else’s life.
If you don’t take care of yourself throughout the process, you’ll end up feeling burned out or overwhelmed, and won’t be much help to anyone. Remender the flight recommendations in times of turbulence: put on your own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else. You will be better equipped to support your loved one if your own needs and well-being are looked after.
Therapy for Depression in Baltimore, MD
Living with depression is a real struggle for many around us. Staying connected and trying to support a person with depression can make a huge difference in their life.
However, remember that you’re not a mental health professional. Beyond showing your love and support for someone who is depressed, you should encourage them to seek professional help. Our therapists at New Connections Counseling Center have experience in working through depression and helping people achieve a happier and more meaningful life.