Depression is defined as a mental illness which is characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness and poor concentration. On average, 1 in 6 people – 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men – will experience depression at some stage of their lives.
There are so many blog posts and articles regarding life as a sufferer of depression and what that entails, however there are less on how observers of sufferers can help as much as they can with this mental illness.
There is a list of myths regarding depression that 100% need clearing up.
1) Depression can be used as a synonym for 'sadness'
This is entirely false. Yes, people with depression can suffer from sadness, but this is not the main symptom of the disorder. Depression is mostly linked with the feeling of apathy and emptiness, with an accompanying feeling of tension if coupled with anxiety.
2) Depression is always situational
Depression can definitely have situational triggers, though the mental illness is generally diagnosed when an individual suffers from prolonged episodes of emptiness, no motivation and hopelessness for no apparent reason or cause. A person with depression can appear happy to the naked eye, which extends the reason that depression can never be used as a synonym for sadness.
3) Depression symptoms are all in your head
Just because it is a mental illness, does not mean everything is kept internally. Common depression symptoms include indigestion, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, and general fatigue.
4) Once you are diagnosed with depression, you are stuck with antidepressants for the rest of your life
Whilst antidepressants such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are proven to have high success rates, this does not mean you cannot be weaned off them. It also does not mean that this is the only method of suppressing symptoms - there are other ways, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or Psychoanalysis. Both of these techniques also have high success rates. A sufferer of depression can also be weaned off these.
Now that these myths have been cleared up, there are a few small steps that you can follow if you want to help a friend or family member with depression. This will not by any means help to cure it, but it could make the sufferer feel more comfortable in your company.
Be there for them. Acknowledge when they are feeling down and ensure that they can feel comfortable opening up and expressing their feelings. Keep positive and comforting, and ask what you can do in order to help them. Often a close friend or relative recognises the symptoms before the sufferer themselves. The sufferer sometimes isn't able to see what they should be seeing. In this case, please bare with the sufferer and never lose patience with them. What people don't realise is that the sufferer will not feel that there is anything wrong until it is too late.
Be aware of timings. Choose a decent time to talk, for example when both of you are relaxed. If they are feeling upset, they may feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive issues and may not want to speak to you about them another time.
Be accepting. Make it clear that you are there and love them unconditionally.
Be informed. It will do you no good if your friend opens up to you and you have not got the faintest idea of what they are talking about. The NHS website and depressionuk both contain a generous amount of information, which is so useful and there for this purpose.
Be encouraging. It is crucial that the sufferer opens up to a knowing adult, such as a parent, teacher or even a doctor, though this is an extremely tough step. If they are not ready, that is okay. Use the dripping tap effect, whereby you gradually assist them in gaining the courage to speak to somebody. Never make them feel pressured into doing anything that they do not want to do.
I hope this advice is helpful, remember to speak up and speak now!
Thank you so much for reading,
-LF, LR and MG