It is hard to see a friend you care about sink into sadness or withdrawal and to not know what to say or do to help. Depression is a serious but treatable disorder that affects 1 out of every 10 people over their lifetime. It causes tremendous pain for the individual suffering from depression and the people close to them too.
The first step to help is to understand. Depression is not feeling blue for a week or two, but is more intense and lasts longer. The signs and symptoms of depression are different for each person, but can include the following:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, irritable or excessively crying without an apparent cause
- Losing interest in activities that you had enjoyed in the past
- Losing or gaining weight unintentionally
- Sleeping poorly or oversleeping
- Having less energy or feeling lethargic
- Having persistent feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Having trouble making decisions or concentrating
- Having thoughts of suicide or death
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
Depression affects a person’s attitude and beliefs. When a depressed individual says “no one cares for me” or “nothing will ever change”, these comments need to be viewed as symptoms of their depression.
Remember that depressed people aren’t lazy. They are ill. Everyday activities like going to work or school, cleaning the house, paying bills or feeding the dog may seem overwhelming to them. Just like someone with the flu they may not feel up to it and need your help.
Your friend may not recognize that they are depressed or they may feel that they can “tough it out” or overcome what they are feeling by willpower alone. As a friend the best thing for you to do is to listen to them, provide hope and to be there for your friend. It is generally not helpful to give advice or to suggest that they “can snap out of it” or try to “fix” them. If your friend expresses that they are not depressed or don’t need your help, don’t push them to acknowledge their problem, but instead continue to keep in touch with them.
If your friend is currently receiving professional help, support their treatment, and if they had not sought help, suggest that they seek help by a mental health professional. Most people suffering from depression can be treated by psychotherapy or a combination of psychotherapy and medication. If they do not begin to improve within 6 to 8 weeks, suggest that they speak with their doctor or another mental health provider for a consultation.
If your friend begins to express any hints about harming themselves or others, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Trying to help someone who is depressed can be draining and stressful for you so remember that you didn’t cause the depression and it is also important to take care of your own emotional health.
For more information about community resources, call MHA’s Client and Family Advocate at 845-267-2172, ext. 296.
Jerry Marton, L.C.S.W.
ACT Team Leader
ACT offers a team-approach that engages people in their communities – providing much of the support and care in people’s homes and neighborhoods. The program is designed for individuals who have not found enough success in more traditional settings.