What to do when someone you love has depression

A person with depression may not realize something's wrong: A therapist offers guidance for friends and family

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  • (Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: hhs.gov)

  • (Photo: National Institutes of Health: nih.gov)

Recognizing the signs of depression

Like other disorders, the sooner depression is diagnosed, the better prognosis for a healthy outcome.
A chronic feeling of hopelessness or having a negative outlook without feeling joy in life is a symptom, or sign, of what’s known as clinical depression.
“Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States," according to The National Institute for Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. "Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors."
According to The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago, more than 25 million Americans cope with mood disorders, notably depression and bipolar disorder.
The signs and symptoms of depression to look out for are as follows:
Chronic sadness, feeling anxious and empty
Withdrawal from family and friends
Negative talk, never happy to share conversation or events with others, no pleasure in social events
Constant complaints of feeling tired
Poor concentration and ability to make decisions; trouble at work or school
Loss of appetite that includes weight loss, possibly overeating and weight gain
Irritability and meanness; critical of others
Abuse of alcohol and drugs
Sleeping problems — too much, too little, interrupted
Complaints of body aches

By Geri Corey

An occasional change in mood is common for all people, regardless of age, sex, or race. But if you’re experiencing a down, or low feeling that continues for two weeks or more and is interfering with your everyday life, it’s time to address what could be depression.

Often the person struggling with depression is battling one or more symptoms at once (please see sidebar). He is unaware that his personality and demeanor have changed. It may be up to a family member, friend, or co-worker to notice he’s “just not himself” lately.

“A person is entitled to the way he feels and thinks that affect his behavior,” said Rita Tomosivitch-Imholz, a therapist with a private practice in Warwick, N.Y., and an office at the Center for Stress Reduction in Goshen, N.Y. "It’s in his present, but it can change. His thoughts formed over many years can eventually be challenged."

How you can helpTomosivitch-Imholz said you can help a person with depression in the following ways:

In a quiet area, encourage the person to talk with you, and, most importantly, listen to what he’s saying about his feelings. Empathize with him; don’t downplay what he’s telling you or use expressions like “pull yourself together” or “snap out of it.”

Develop a rapport. There has to be an element of trust when reaching out to the person. Validate his feelings.

Tell the person how much you and others care for him. Knowing that others are fond of him, and do care about him, will help ease his pain.

In a gentle way, without being critical, share with him the changes in his behavior that you and others have observed. Include in your discussion how his behavior has affected you and others.

Keep in mind that he probably isn’t up for small talk and socializing at this point, so it’s better not to press social events or other activities. If he attempts to socialize without being up to it, it might set him up for more feelings of failure.

Acknowledge his negative views while gently emphasizing there’s hope and that things will get better. Ask him about his life before his illness: What interests did he have? What brought him joy? What are his hopes for the future?

Take your timeBear in mind that "working with a person with depression is an ongoing process because you’re breaking down ways of thinking," said Tomosivitch-Imholz. "It will take time.”

Each person is affected differently by depression, and finding what works best won't happen right away.

Finally, encourage the person to seek medical attention through a clinical evaluation. Depression is a medical condition that is treatable through medicine, therapy, and support groups.

“Although a person suffering with depression might lack energy, have no enthusiasm, and not want to do anything, a suggestion of taking a small walk might appeal to him,” said Tomosivitch-Imholz. “Going outside and taking a short walk is hard for him to do, his symptoms are overwhelming, but taking small steps is the best approach. Reaching out to him is important.”

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