When someone’s suffering from depression, support from family and friends makes a huge difference. A lot of times, those suffering from depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts are reluctant to “open up” to others and therefore can end up suffering alone in silence. As a friend, there are ways you can recognise the signs and symptoms of depression and be able to offer them the support to help them manage and recover.
Recognising the ‘black dog’
If you think your friend or loved one is suffering from depression, be mindful of their behaviour and note any differences in their personality or change in appearance that seems ‘out of the norm’. If your friend has been showing symptoms of depression consistently for more than 2 weeks, there’s a chance they are suffering from clinical depression. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- A depressed mood
- Easily irritated
- Tiredness and sleep deprivation or oversleeping
- Loss of appetite or change in weight
- Loss of interest in activities which would normally bring them joy
- Cancelling plans
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Negative self-talk, idealising self-harm
- A reliance on alcohol and/or sedatives
- Loss of pride in their appearance
Methods of assistance
It’s important to remember that those suffering from depression can’t just “snap out of it”. Encouraging phrases like “it’s not all that bad” and “look on the positive side” are well-intended, but someone suffering depression is not merely going through a case of the ‘blues’. Depression is not a choice, it’s a condition that requires proper treatment and therapy. To effectively support someone suffering depression, you need to follow some practical, helpful steps to give them the assistance they need.
Oftentimes, those suffering depression aren’t looking for advice or a lecture. They just want you to listen. You can prompt helpful conversation by asking them, ‘is there anything I can help you with?’. If they want to talk, they will. But don’t force them to. Sitting there in silence and being a shoulder to lean on means more to your friend who’s suffering depression than anything else. It’s a good idea to avoid talking to them when they are upset or stressed. Choose moments when you’re both comfortable and relaxed.
2. Understand that depression doesn’t mean ‘sadness’
Depression is more than just feeling sad. It is the combination of several physical, emotional, and physiological symptoms including fatigue, disordered thinking, and biological factors. While it can be frustrating for those who have never experienced it, it’s important to not talk down to your friend or be judgemental toward their behaviour or thinking patterns. A lot of times, those supporting a loved one with depression can’t understand why they can’t just do something to distract themselves to get in a better mood. It’s important to let go of what you think you know about depression and instead help to validate their feelings. Someone who is depressed cannot adhere to rational thinking. They are not living in the same universe as you, so using logic won’t help. Instead of lamenting “I know it’s frustrating, but you’ll get over it”, validate their feelings of frustration by telling them “I’m sorry you’re going through this. That sounds so hard”.
3. Encourage self-care
Many people suffering from depression begin to neglect their health and appearance. It’s a difficult scenario because while their depression is making it hard for them to want to go out and exercise or self-nourish, the act of not doing so makes the depression even worse. You can help by encouraging your friend to go out for a walk or doing something like a hike together. Exercising has an important positive effect on a person’s state of mind and an overall feeling of well-being. You may be able to use it as an opportunity to talk to your friend about what’s going on and to gauge how they’re coping. There are also helpful apps that you can suggest to your friend as a resource to help them cope with their depression and mental health.
4. Offer to see a health professional together
As a friend, it’s important to talk to them about getting professional help and treatment. You can even help them to make an appointment by offering to go with them or making that first call for them. Be mindful that your friend may not want to seek help. If that’s the case, offer them some self-help material or give them the contact information to important 24/7 helplines such as LifeLine, BeyondBlue, ReachOut, and the Black Dog Institute.
5. Respond to crises immediately
If you are worried about your friend’s health or believe they are at risk of hurting or endangering themselves, seek help immediately. Call 000 in any instance where there’s an emergency.
6. Look after yourself
Watching your friend or loved one go through depression can also affect your mood and mental health. When you feel helpless to do anything for them it can become frustrating and exhausting. Remember to always take care of your own mental health and monitor your mood. Don’t give up the things and activities you enjoy, and make sure to take time out to relax and do something nice or positive for yourself such as going out for lunch or watching a movie.
Types of treatment
There are different types of treatments and coping strategies depending on how severe the depression is. Because of its complexity, depression requires a multi-faceted approach. Depression is a mental condition, where biological factors (such as your genes and chemical imbalances in the brain) contribute to its severity. In some cases, depression can be triggered by a traumatic or stressful event. Because of this, treatment must be tailored to the individual. But most commonly the tried and true methods of treating depression include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): a program to ‘re-wire’ the brain and change negative thought patterns.
- Counselling and therapy: Working with a qualified counsellor, therapist, or psychologist can help to identify the core issues a person suffering depression may be dealing with and provide them with the necessary coping strategies and tools to help overcome it.
- Psychotherapy: A combination of psychological treatments to deal with the mind, including the practice of ‘mindfulness’ as well as self-soothing holistic treatments such as art therapy, yoga, and acupuncture.
- Inpatient support: If the depression is severe or is affecting a person’s life where they need more intensive support, they can be admitted into a private care practice, health retreat, or hospital to receive ‘round-the-clock treatment.